Archive for the ‘Info’ Category

Feedback on dds textures required

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Should Flightgear switch to dds texture format?

What is this about?

The FG development team is considering to switch the format for terrain textures from png to dds. This would offer a number of significant advantages:

– dds is a compressed format, hence the download size of the FG base package may be decreased
– compressed dds can be directly used by many graphics cards, reducing also GPU memory consumption
– dds stores all texture resolution levels, i.e. no lower resolution levels have to be generated when the texture is used, hence it loads much faster into memory
– the resolution levels (‘mipmaps’) can be customized, allowing for some interesting effects at no performance cost

Practically all commercial simulations use dds for these reasons.

However, the dds compression algorithm is patented, which means that it is not readily available for OpenSource graphics drivers used by Linux distributions. Dependent on the specific hardware, this may or may not be a problem (modern graphics cards typically do not need the driver to process dds, for older graphics cards there are non-patented workarounds available which decompress the dds on the software level). The development team is concerned about making the Flightgear experience pleasant for all users, hence we would like to gather feedback how many users would be affected by a change in practice.

If there are no problems reported, FG will change defaults to txtures in dds format with the 3.4 release, and then phase out the use of png textures.

What would we need?

Flightgear already provides the simple option to test a dds texture set. If you are running on Linux and especially if you use an OpenSource graphics driver, please take 5 minutes to help during your next FG session:

– Open the dialog under View -> Rendering

– Under ‘Terrain texture scheme’, change the default ‘Region-specific’ to ‘Global alternative (DDS format)’ (see red circle)

– Press ‘Okay’ – FG will reload the terrain

– Do you see proper textures on the terrain (they may look different and may also not fit the location perfectly)? If yes, you’re fine. If you see monochromatic colors or other rendering artifacts, your system may have problems with dds.

– Change back to the texture scheme you like best

– Go to the wiki page and report your experiences, ideally including the graphics card you have and the driver you’re using.

Thanks for your time!

Some context for those interested

The visuals you get to see of the terrain in Flightgear depend on texture scheme and rendering scheme being used.

Simply put, the texture scheme selects a set of texture sheets which are mapped to the various landclasses in the terrain, such that a forest is rendered as forest rather than as grass. The old ‘Global’ texture scheme uses one such set everywhere in the world, the ‘Global alternative’ scheme uses a different set, but the format the textures are stored in is dds rather than png, and the ‘Regional’ scheme selects different textures based on what part of the world you are in. So the texture scheme selection governs things like the basic appearance of the terrain, the format the textures are internally stored in and the definitions where in the world certain textures should be used.

However, modern graphics cards allow to modify textures dynamically, or even create them on the fly by Procedural Texturing using shader effects. Dependent on shader quality level, these effects may have quite a pronounced impact on the visuals. If you are not running Rembrandt, you can switch the main rendering schemes runtime using the ‘Atmospheric Light Scattering’ (ALS) checkbox in the rendering dialog (blue circle in the image above) and explore what it does. So in summary, the rendering scheme selection governs just what is done in detail with the basic texture layers selected above (but, confusingly enough, shader effects may even replace textures).

Some examples exploring the different texture and rendering schemes below:

This is the South Rim of Grand Canyon using regional texture definitions and ALS procedural texturing:

Regional texture definitions allow to adjust the rock color to what is prevalent in the US Southwest, whereas the banded rock structure is not part of the texture file but generated procedurally.

Same scene using global texture definitions and ALS:

Using global textures, the rock and grass color is no longer adapted to the region, and also the shader effect no longer replaces the steepest forest patches by rock.

Same scene using global alternative (DDS) textures and ALS:

Switching to global DDS textures does not alter the visuals significantly in this case, the main difference is the texture format and detail resolution.

Same scene using regional textures and default rendering scheme:

The default rendering scheme at high quality contains some texture replacements which are coded globally into the effect framework and do not mesh too well with the regional texture colors seen elsewhere in the scene.

Same scene using global texture scheme and default rendering scheme:

Such global texture replacements in the shader however work better with a global texture scheme.

Same scene using global alternative DDS texture scheme and default rendering scheme:

Here, the dds texture scheme leads to somewhat different colors.

FG supports this wide variety of textures and rendering schemes so that users can customize the visuals to the performance offered by their computer and select the best compromise between good framerate and compelling visuals.

We need different schemes for this, since in trying to render a scene faithfully, we need to decide questions whether an average level of dust should already be included into textures (as done in the global scheme) or added dynamically according to weather (as done in the regional scheme in procedural texturing). The first alternative is preferable on low-end hardware where procedural texturing is too slow, but the second alternative works much better on high-end systems. Similarly, having different texture schemes allows us to provide a quick fallback for users who might experience problems with a dds-based scheme.

A preview of features for Flightgear 3.2

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Flightgear is constantly under development and as the feature freeze for the next 3.2 release approaches, it is becoming increasingly clear what the next version will have to offer to users:


The Flightgear world is becoming more interesting…

A mission subsystem is being added. This allows to define tasks to be completed by a player which then receives points. Visual guidance symbols can be used to indicate the location of the next task. The mission system combines with the Milestone 4 release of the walker,and thus more complex adventures can be built in which the player has to exit an aircraft and walk to a certain location.

The walker subsystem now allows for more complex animated motion and adds NPCs, characters with whom a player can interact. Also, check out the selection of cars and motorbikes to explore the Flightgear world!

Cloud shadows

Finally some shade!

Cloud shadows are notoriously difficult to render, but for Advanced Weather in combination with the Atmospheric Light Scattering rendering framework, there is now an experimental option to add them (at least close to the aircraft) to the experience.


See the world from high up!

Introduced to provide better visuals for the spacecraft in Flightgear, Earthview is an alternative rendering engine intended for use at high altitudes. It renders Earth as a simple, textured sphere surrounded by a cloud sphere. The textures are provided by the NASA Visible Earth project. By default, a set of 2048×2048 textures is distributed, but Earthview is intended to allow easy access for users who want to install their own hires texture set. At full resolution of about 21000×21000 pixels per texture provided by NASA, it looks simply spectacular even from just 50 km altitude – see the Vostok capsule above entering the atmosphere.

Built-in http server

Access the property tree in a novel way!

Flightgear now includes the Mongoose web server as a httpd. This allows for interesting new application, for instance merging information from Flightgear and OpenStreetMap or Mapquest, leading to a new moving map application covering the whole world is available which tracks the airplane’s position.

Cloud drawing distance

See clouds out to the horizon!

Flightgear’s weather rendering so far has not been up to the task of showing a plausible view from high altitude. But this has now changed – a new framerate-friendly impostor technique is used to render clouds out to the horizon – wherever that may be (the system has been tested for 1000 km visibility from low Earth orbit).

Rendering improvements

Visuals keep getting better!

Lots of work has been done on the small details. New tree textures at higher resolutions make the forests actually look nice. Novel noise function are used to improve the visuals of snow on steep terrain slopes, to change tree height in discrete patches mimicking patterns of forest management, or to remove tiling artifacts from large-scale agriculture. Enjoy all the details the new version will have to offer.

And many improvements more!

Much work is done under the hood which is not obviously visible:

* The YASim flight dynamics engine is finally being developed further, with some long-standing bugs and limitations being addressed for the time being
* Ground interactions have been added to the JSBSim flight dynamics engine
* a new text-to-speech message is about to replace the old pre-recorded ATIS messages, adding a lot of flexibility
* an interface for allowing add-ons that use FSUIPC (an addon framework for Microsoft Flight Simulator) to talk to FlightGear
* osgEarth integration is still on the horizon

Stay tuned as we fly towards our next release!

A preview of features for Flightgear 3.0

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Flightgear is constantly under development and as the feature freeze for the next 3.0 release approaches, it is becoming increasingly clear what the next version will have to offer to users:

Scenery 2.0

The next generation scenery has finally arrived!

After long years of waiting, a new version of the world-wide scenery shipped with Flightgear is now being rolled out. This scenery makes use of CORINE data in Europe, utilizes other custom enhancements elsewhere in the world, brings new and improved airport layouts and includes roads and other line data from the Open Street Map project. Especially in the CORINE covered regions, this leads to a much better visual appearance.

Novel water effects

Enjoy watching the shallows around tropical islands in fine weather!

At high quality levels of the water shader, a global water depth map is now used to change the water color in the shallow regions around islands and close to the coast. Especially in the Caribbean, this corresponds to a significant improvement in visual quality. The effect combines with the other variations in water color based on weather and base color due to algae or mud content.

The walker

Now you can get out of your airplane!

The walker project allows to leave an aircraft and explore the scenery on foot. This effectively allows adventure-game like scenarios in Flightgear such as The evil Graveyard where the walker also interacts with the scenery. Combined with the hires procedural terrain texturing options, you can start exploring the scenery from quite a different perspective and walk into your favourite virtual airport bar after a long and exhausting flight.

New airplanes

Enjoy a few new, highly detailed airplanes!

Some recent addition to the list of Flightgear aircraft, the new Boeing 707 (shown above) and the Robin DR400 Dauphin (a single propeller engine plane) impress with impressively detailed modelling of the cockpit, plenty of attention to realistic flight dynamics and especially in the case of the 707 a sometimes frustratingly realistic level of systems modelling.

More complex glass cockpits

Enjoy more realistic instruments!

The canvas 2d rendering technology allows the creation of more realistic glass cockpits with complicated instruments. Shown here is the new PFD and ND of the Boeing-747-400 as an example.

Phototexturing using osgEarth

Explore the scenery textured by aerial imagery!

An experimental implementation of generic phototextured terrain using osgEarth is now on the way and might make it into the 3.0 release. Once enabled, osgEarth renders the terrain scene by building the textured geometry at runtime from raw source imagery and elevation data. The input data can come from a variety of sources including web mapping services or local source data (e.g. geotiff) stored on disk. This feature is runtime-switchable from the default scenery rendering.

Better rendering of fog and haze

We take bad visibility seriously!

For some 3d applications, fog may just be a device to hide the terrain in the distance, but in Flightgear rendering fog and haze is taken quite seriously. The Atmospheric Light Scattering framework now comes with an improved way to render fog patches and variations in fog layer altitude, combined with even more impressive lighting of fog in low sun. You’ll never enjoy bad visibility this much!

And many improvements more…

And that’s not all:

* new regional textures for Scandinavia, Ascension Island and Corsica
* user-controlled moonlight effect for the Atmospheric Light Scattering framework
* added and improved airplanes
* more AI traffic/models

Stay tuned as we fly towards the next release!


A preview of novel features for the next release

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Flightgear is constantly under development, and the current development version (2.11) contains already a number of interesting features beyond what 2.10 could do – so here is some (incomplete) list of what to expect from the next release:

Novel water effects

As part of the Atmospheric Light Scattering rendering scheme, some novel features have been added to the water shader:

Subtle variations in sea color and surface reflectivity are rendered at high quality, which together with slighly patchy fog improves the visual impression significantly. In addition, an experimental effect generating surf at some coastlines is under active development (coast of Lanai, Hawaii from the EC-135 cockpit).

The environment control allows to a drift ice overlay effect to render winter scenes in cold climate (coastline near Juneau, Alaska).

Improved usability

Flightgear becomes better accessible for the novel user:

A new tooltip system has been added, identifying knobs, gauges and levers for the new user and also indicating their value, thus eliminating the need to zoom to read badly visible instruments. On-screen messages are rendered in a new gnome-like semi-transparent window style. These changes are part of a larger restructuring of the user interface, which standardizes the interaction with cockpit clickspots and adds a more intuitive view mode by right-click/drag as option.


The Rembrandt rendering does shadows best, but this does not mean other frameworks can do nothing:

The balance of direct and indirect light has been re-adjusted to simulate the self-shading of terrain better. In clear weather, shaded surface are now rendered much darker, leading to much improved visuals in low morning or afternoon light (the B-1900D over the French Alps near Grenoble).

Air-air refueling

Fans of realistic air-air refueling will be happy:

The air to air refueling system has been much improved. It now contains a menu to select tanker type, speed and contact radius. Two new tanker planes have been added, and the contact points are now correctly specified, allowing for a much more realistic aerial refueling experience.

Ground texture resolution

Landing somewhere off an airport was never before this nice:

A high resolution shader effect has been added to the procedural terrain rendering of the Atmospheric Light Scattering framework, which renders cm-scale detail resolution. This allows for a much improved low level flight experience and more interesting helicopter operations in the terrain, as there are now visual markers available to gauge distance to the terrain (the EC-135 landing on Lanai shrubland).


The weather system has received a major upgrade. The grouping of sparse clouds into patterns is now much more realistic, replacing simple clusters by visually more interesting undulatus or wavy patterns.

As part of these changes, the rendering of low visibility scenes in Atmospheric Light Scattering has also been made more consistent.


The next version of a well-known aircraft arrives:

The Eurocopter EC-135 is currently undergoing a major overhaul. The FDM is completely revised, leading to a more stable experience in level flight, and the cockpit is done in high-resolution photorealistic texturing (over the French Alps, close to Grenoble).

A large selection of different models is provided, all with different liveries, equipment and slightly altered FDM (over the French Alps, close to Grenoble).


The environment becomes more interactive:

Canvas is a technology to render 2-d information into the scene – it can be used for complicated instruments or a HUD. However, it has now been extended to be applicable to scenery objects as well – this allows for novel features such as airliner docking guidance systems as shown here.

Seasonal effects

Now you don’t only have to fly in summer or winter:

As part of a restructured tree shader, deciduous trees now shed their foliage if they are above the snowline, thus they adapt to the shader-drawn snow effects better. In addition, Atmospheric Light Scattering includes now an experimental season effect (mostly tested for Europe) which allows to simulate the autumn coloring of deciduous forests and pastures.

And many improvements more…

And that’s not all:

* regional textures for Middle East, the UK, Greenland, Indonesia, the arctic sea and Madagascar have been added
* improved aircraft checklists
* better interface between Basic Weather and Atmospheric Light Scattering rendering
* tree movement in the wind
* novel animations, allowing e.g. for more realistic rendering of complex gear motion


Stay tuned as we fly towards the next release!

12 Days of Flight Tips (Season 2)

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Last year, Oscar (youtube user: osjcag) created a series of short “howto” movies called the 12 Days of FlightGear Tips.  This year he is producing Season #2!  Each day he releases a new tip in honor of the twelve days of Christmas. Make sure you check back each day for the new tip!  Even “seasoned” FlightGear pilots may pick up a new trick or two.  Enjoy!