X-Plane Scenery Gateway

X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby zengei » Mon Mar 23, 2015 7:57 am

I've written a few posts about this, but for those who aren't aware: X-Plane has the Scenery Gateway project, which allows users to create and submit custom versions of airports for inclusion in future releases of X-Plane. I've created a spreadsheet which tracks all the locations in the PilotEdge coverage area and their scenery status.

PilotEdge X-Plane Gateway Scenery

Useful columns:
  • has_scenery Whether or not any 3D scenery exists for the location in the scenery gateway at all.
  • scenery_released_version The first version of X-Plane the scenery was released in. Scenery that has yet to be released will have a YES for has_scenery but empty for scenery_released_version.
  • scenery_score My own secret source formula for determining how "important" an location is.

I've also included two pre-filtered views in the spreadsheet: Has Scenery and Has Released Scenery so it's easy to see what's currently available.

I and I know some others have been creating scenery and uploading them to the Gateway on an ad hoc basis. If you want to help it's not that hard to get started. This topic on the Org is a good place to start. The official manual for WED (the World Editor) is also good. WED is pretty straight forward to use once you get used to it and the newest beta (1.4b1) allows you to import directly from the Scenery Gateway, which makes making quick fixes to existing airports super easy. The most difficult part of making scenery is honestly just at the beginning: getting orthoimagery to use as overlays. Thankfully the United States Geological Survey makes high resolution orthophotos of the entire US available without restriction (as works of the US federal government, the photos are in the public domain). Resolution varies between areas from a resolution of about 3-meters (each pixel in the image corresponds to 3 meters) down to 0.15-meters (each pixel in the image corresponds to 15 cm). The images produced by the USGS are all geotagged (they include geographic coordinates denoting the exact area the image covers) which WED can use to automatically place the overlay images precisely. Unfortunately getting the images into WED can be a bit tricky. Sometimes the images are too large for WED to support, so they need to be split and tiled. Also, newer images tend to be GeoJP2 (geotagged JPEG 2000 images) rather than GeoTIFFs which WED supports, requiring a conversion. WED 1.4 was supposed to include native support for GeoJP2, but that proved troublesome. If you do decide to give this a go, I recommend starting small, very small. My first airport airport was KEMT, a rather modest class D airport, but even that took me many hours to get just right.

Some questions you might have:

Q: How accurate can these airports be? What do people mean when they say these are "lego brick" sceneries?
A: The airports can be super accurate as far as layout and markings are concerned. And if you're an obsessive pedant like me you can spend days getting the markings just right. As far as buildings and objects you're restricted to the objects that are included with X-Plane. This is fairly limiting compared to third-party scenery libraries like OpenSceneryX or the ability to create custom buildings entirely from scratch. This is why people refer to gateway scenery as "lego brick" scenery, you can only use the bricks you're given. That said, with a bit of creativity you can achieve a fairly high level of verisimilitude just from the default X-Plane objects. And I'm confident future X-Plane releases will include a greater variety of objects to enhance the gateway airports.

Q: Why not just use third-party sceneries?
A: While I adore a lot of third party scenery by folks like JeffN and MisterX6 and use them preferentially (I never tire of the novelty of AutoGate or GroundTraffic); finding, reviewing, installing, and updating third-party sceneries (and any dependencies they may have) is just not a good experience for new or even veteran users. It's nice when a user can just load up and fly into an airport and have decent scenery there already without having to go through the effort of finding it. Imagine how much better it is for a new PilotEdge user to load up KSNA for the first time and have full scenery there (provided by Jan Vogel of IXEG 737 Classic fame, based on an updated version of JeffN's scenery) rather than just an empty flat area.

Q: Is anyone actually doing this?
A: Oh yes, as of today (2015-03-23) there are about 2,100 airports with 3D scenery on the gateway. The aforementioned Jan Vogel even has a campaign to have Germany be the first country to have every single one of its airports have scenery included with X-Plane and they're progressing well with (I believe) only the former East Germany left to do. According to my database, of those 2,100 airports, only 460 are under FAA jurisdiction and only 34 are in the PilotEdge coverage area so there's a lot of work to do!

Q: But even so, why would I work for free to benefit a private company (Laminar Research)?
A: The good news is that in their wisdom Laminar decided to make all submissions to the Gateway available under the terms of the GPL2 making all gateway data Free software available for your own use for whatever purpose, even including inclusion in other simulators if some new hotness were to come along in the future. So your work is of immediate benefit to Laminar and other X-Plane users, but it's also available to anyone else to use freely forever. Think of it as like contributing to Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap.

Q: What if I want to add a second runway to my favorite private field?
A: Sorry, gateway submissions should be accurate to the present day. If you want to make fantasy or historical sceneries I encourage you to do so, but make it available to download on the Org or some other distribution mechanism.
zengei
 
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Re: X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby Geoff » Mon Mar 23, 2015 8:47 am

Thanks so much for posting this. I'm a big believer in the Gateway project. I've been doing a lot of random flying, and it's such a pleasant surprise to arrive at an airfield with "lego brick" scenery installed automatically. Even a few hangers and are enough to make the place look like an airport and not just bare pavement.

I've made exactly one lego-brick airport myself, so I'm no expert. But it was fun. (KLAR, Laramie Regional in Laramie, Wyoming, which will be included in the next release of X-Plane.) Also, I've had all sorts of trouble getting GeoTIFFs into WED; I hadn't realized that maybe I was using images in a newer format.

I had been planning a personal Jan-style "do all of a state" campaign in an eastern state with relatively few airfields, like Maine, since I know that part of the world best. But maybe I'll rethink and help with the PE area. Does your "secret score" suggest a list of priorities? (Are those "yearly ops" in PE, or FSE?) Trouble is, the highest-priority airfields are places no one is eager to tackle with Lego bricks; with the Legos, you won't be able to make LAX's distinctive central building, for example. Still, some places, like Chino, might be more do-able.

Anyway, thanks again for leading the way on this.
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Re: X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby zengei » Mon Mar 23, 2015 10:45 am

Geoff wrote:Does your "secret score" suggest a list of priorities?

Nope! I encourage anyone that wants to do this to do whatever they prefer on an ad hoc basis. Hell, the sceneries I've done were all chosen randomly because I wanted someplace new to fly to. Working on something in your free time you really don't want to is just demotivating. The score is simply there to help people get an idea of what might get more visibility if they're choosing between doing airport X and airport Y. The actual formula I use is below.

Geoff wrote:Trouble is, the highest-priority airfields are places no one is eager to tackle with Lego bricks; with the Legos, you won't be able to make LAX's distinctive central building, for example. Still, some places, like Chino, might be more do-able.

Yes, exactly.

Geoff wrote:(Are those "yearly ops" in PE, or FSE?)

They're real world data from the FAA. Technically the FAA splits them out into military, chartered, GA, scheduled, etc. ops, but I just summed them all together. If PE had >600K yearly ops from LAX I assume Keith wouldn't even bother to talk to us commoners whilst he flew his solid gold G650 to his private island (with its own airfield!).

Code: Select all
actc_score = 1.0 (has ATCT), 0.0 (otherwise)
operations_score = yearly_operations / max(yearly_operations)
status_score = 1.0 (operation), 0.0 (otherwise)
type_score = 1.0 (airport), 0.0 (otherwise)
use_score = 1.0 (public), 0.0 (otherwise)

raw_scenery_score = (actc_score * 3.0) + (operations_score * 3.0) + (status_score * 2.0) + (type_score * 2.0) + (use_score * 1.0);
scenery_score = min(raw_scenery_score) to max(raw_scenery_score) range scaled to between 0 to 100.
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Re: X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby Geoff » Mon Mar 23, 2015 9:52 pm

LoL, I didn't look at those yearly-ops numbers too carefully. Thanks for the clarification.

I hear you about staying motivated. It took me 10-15 hours to do my first little Lego project, and that was a simple untowered field. Still, it had two runways, taxiways up to Juliet or so, and that means many more intersections than I imagined. I spent lots of time just making runway and taxi signs -- dozens of the things, it seemed. Plopping down buildings and fuel tanks was easy by comparison.

Also, I had trouble finding a good lego building for a terminal. I ended up using a generic office building. Jan has some good suggestions about that over in the XPlane forums; I'm going to try out some of those. Do you have any thoughts on making something look like a terminal building?
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Re: X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby zengei » Tue Mar 24, 2015 7:39 am

Geoff wrote:Also, I had trouble finding a good lego building for a terminal. I ended up using a generic office building. Jan has some good suggestions about that over in the XPlane forums; I'm going to try out some of those. Do you have any thoughts on making something look like a terminal building?

No particular tips, I usually just look for the closest approximation of size and height of the building as possible, without looking weird. If using a facade is appropriate, that will at least allow you to get the exact footprint of the building correct, but facades tend to be very tall at their minimum height (I really want a short hangar facade).

I've also decided my next project will be KSBP.
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Re: X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby Geoff » Tue Mar 24, 2015 10:22 pm

Cool. My first flight on PE was into KSBP. I don't recall whether there was scenery there or not, but the Gateway says it has no 3D scenery, so it sounds like a great project. Lots of PE people will make their first flights into that field, following Keith's advice.

Incidentally, I was pleasantly surprised to find nice scenery at Oceano County.
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Re: X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby Geoff » Tue Mar 24, 2015 10:49 pm

Hmm, what if I were to take a crack at Grand Canyon West (1G4)? Grand Canyon National Park (KGCN) already has scenery, but Grand Canyon West does not. It's a lower priority airport than your choice, and it seems to have little FSE traffic. But it's an interesting little field, hard by the Grand Canyon. It has a right traffic pattern, possibly because of a rather large chasm directly to the east of the field. :) Best of all, it's small and simple, so I can't make too big a mess of it. I'm still trying to figure out how facades and .pol thingies work, so I small field would be good practice.

Would that be okay with you? It'd probably be a couple days before I can get going on it. Maybe not til the weekend.
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Re: X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby zengei » Wed Mar 25, 2015 5:46 am

Geoff wrote:Cool. My first flight on PE was into KSBP. I don't recall whether there was scenery there or not, but the Gateway says it has no 3D scenery, so it sounds like a great project. Lots of PE people will make their first flights into that field, following Keith's advice.

Yup, why I chose it.

Geoff wrote:Incidentally, I was pleasantly surprised to find nice scenery at Oceano County.

Yep, it's been there for a while.

Geoff wrote:Hmm, what if I were to take a crack at Grand Canyon West (1G4)? Grand Canyon National Park (KGCN) already has scenery, but Grand Canyon West does not. It's a lower priority airport than your choice, and it seems to have little FSE traffic. But it's an interesting little field, hard by the Grand Canyon. It has a right traffic pattern, possibly because of a rather large chasm directly to the east of the field. :) Best of all, it's small and simple, so I can't make too big a mess of it. I'm still trying to figure out how facades and .pol thingies work, so I small field would be good practice.

Would that be okay with you? It'd probably be a couple days before I can get going on it. Maybe not til the weekend.

Do whatever you feel like. :) Sounds good to me.
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Re: X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby Geoff » Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:29 am

Zengei, have you thought about adding a column to your spreadsheet indicating which airports have custom scenery available? I ask because I think we should be focusing on airports with no scenery at all. In the stickie'd thread on Jeff's scenery, it's been suggested that underlying Legos can sometimes distort or interfere with custom scenery, or degrade X-Plane performance, even if the custom scenery uses exclusion zones. I haven't noticed that problem myself, but I confess I haven't really been looking for it. If the scenery_pack.ini file first lists a custom airport (say KSNA) and, lower done in that file, lists the Global Airports folder that contains a Lego-KSNA, does X-Plane properly pick the custom KSNA and ignore the Lego KSNA?

More discussion on the last page of this thread here: viewtopic.php?f=12&t=3489&p=32903#p32903
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Re: X-Plane Scenery Gateway

Postby zengei » Wed Mar 25, 2015 3:32 pm

Geoff wrote:Zengei, have you thought about adding a column to your spreadsheet indicating which airports have custom scenery available? I ask because I think we should be focusing on airports with no scenery at all.

Fair, and I thought about it originally, but there's a lot of custom scenery and like most things in life it follows a bell curve; there's a few really good ones, a lot of mediocre ones, and some really bad ones. I didn't want to bother with the judgment call that would be involved with deciding if a custom scenery was "good enough" to be listed. My suggestion is to pick an airport you want to do first, do a search to see if anyone's made a custom scenery for it, and then decide whether or not you could do a better job with lego bricks (if you spend the effort, a lot of times the answer to that will be "yes").

Geoff wrote:In the stickie'd thread on Jeff's scenery, it's been suggested that underlying Legos can sometimes distort or interfere with custom scenery, or degrade X-Plane performance, even if the custom scenery uses exclusion zones. I haven't noticed that problem myself, but I confess I haven't really been looking for it. If the scenery_pack.ini file first lists a custom airport (say KSNA) and, lower done in that file, lists the Global Airports folder that contains a Lego-KSNA, does X-Plane properly pick the custom KSNA and ignore the Lego KSNA?

If exclusions are setup correctly with the custom version it should be fine. The trouble with exclusions is that they have to be rectangles aligned along the cardinal directions (no rotations). Which makes fine tuning them tough. (I assume the underlying reason for this restriction is because it's a lot faster to compute if a point is inside a rectangular boundary than an arbitrary polygon).
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