Introduction to Scenery Design

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So you want to learn Scenery Design.

Flight Simming is a great hobby, at least for some of us. In some instances I am sure it has become more like a 'Way of Life," but never the less a whole lot of fun. We pretty well all love to get into an aircraft, preferably a DC-3 for me, and let our thoughts carry us into the wild blue yonder, just about as if it were for real. Now that is only one facet of Flight Simming. There are many people out there that design and build wonderful aircraft, others that do beautiful repaints of aircraft, still others that build, gauges, panels and those brilliant people that write the code for so many programs that make it possible for people like me to do so many of these things. There is one further part of the hobby that many have taken up and that is Scenery Design. I do not profess to be an expert at it but I thoroughly enjoy it and it has become a very big part in my Flight Simulator hobby.

Scenery Design has sort of grown with the simulators as they come out. As the designers of the simulators upgrade to newer technology, the scenery designers must do the same. This being the case, there is no easy way to say, "this is how you do it", because there is more than one simulator that you may want your scenery to operate in. This short narrative will only try to cover FS2002 and FS2004.

Scenery in the simulators is made up of basically two elements, BGL files and Texture files. In really simple terms the BGL files are instructions to the simulator to tell it what shape an object is, its size and where it is located. The texture files are what is used to cover these objects to make them look as realistic as possible.

When you get into Scenery Design there are two basic areas to work in. One is the design and making of objects. These objects can be anything from a simple building to very complex structures. These objects, usually called macros, are made up of the bgl and texture files. Once these macros are built, many scenery designers can use them. You will find literally thousands on web sites like AVSIM. The people that make them do it as a hobby and are usually glad to share them with others as freeware. There are quite a few programs available to produce these objects. Some of these are freeware and some are not. At the moment a program called Gmax is probably the best suited for use in more than one simulator. This program, by Discreet, is used to make powerful games, beautiful aircraft and is quite suitable to design objects for scenery. There are many others but I won't name them as I feel if you are going to learn to use a program for designing objects, then Gmax would be the best way to go.

The second part of Scenery Design is to place these macros into the simulators so they will be seen as you operate your simulator. This is a little more complicated because of the different technologies used in FS2002 and FS2004. They both use BGLs but they are different type BGLs. At present the older type BGLs, "C" type, will work in both simulators but is really a "backward technology" when used in FS2004. We are still waiting for more SDK's (Software Design Kits) from Microsoft that will enable those brilliant guys to build new and update present programs to be able to use the new technology.

At present there are a couple good programs that place objects great for FS2002 and will work in FS2004 but with that 'Backward Technology'. These are Airport for Windows, Flight Simulator Scenery Designer (FSSC) and AFCAD. These programs will enable you to take pre-designed macros and place them into your simulator. They will also make it possible for you to build a new airport, name it, assign a ICAO code, put down runways, taxiways, polygons (ground surfaces such as concrete, tarmac etc.) all so that it will show up in the Air Field Data of your simulator.

So to finalize:

FOR FS2002
FOR FS2004

There is a rich set of tools available for advanced scenery design. With these tools, you will be able to control the Land/Water Masks, Landclass, Mesh, Animations, etc.

Al Gay,
Scenery Design Coordinator
15 January 2004