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simFlight.de interview Chris Bell

simFlight_interview

Our German colleagues over at simFlight.de recently interviewed Night Environment X developer Chris Bell about his product and involvement in the hobby.

As the original interview was carried out in English, we’re pleased to be able to reproduce it here for you, which you can read by clicking “Read more“. Alternatively, both language versions can be found at simFlight.de here.

(All images courtesy of simFlight.de)

night-environment-BOX-160x-80Hello Chris. Your new “Night Environment X” regions are represented at the news on simFlight.de now almost weekly. You are well known at the community. On which projects have you been working before?

Thank you Peter,

Night Environment is my first commercial endeavor. Prior to NE, I have done several private projects  under the names iVFR and iCVFR.

These two projects covered a forgotten region I decided to take under my wing;

I’ve rendered the latest GDEM v2 mesh for the region, as well as handmade auto generated land class that works over Photoreal, accurate buildings with custom regional textures, accurate placed trees (detected off the Photoreal set!), roads, coastline waves;

All derived from vector data and true to real world 100%.

What was the motivation to “light up our virtual world”?

The motivation to light up the night came from a need I was faced with.

I was inspired by a picture a fellow simmer posted; the image was of a real world oceanic approach to KLAX at night;

his wish was to see our sim light up this way at night!

After I completed my private project, day time was perfect; But night time was very dull!

after all the effort ive invested; I realized I’m only half way through,

I also realized there’s a technical difficulty achieving the desired look!

that is when I started looking into existing technologies to light up the night in my project, but none were fitting as they all were directed towards a small area scenery with few lights only.

nothing in existence was fitting for large scale distribution, that’s when I started designing our own lighting system from scratch,

I’ve developed a methodology and shared with FSDev community; the method of placing lights along roads derived from vector data.

and who is the target audience for the product?

I say the target audience are mainly student and real world pilots looking to practice and enhance their night flying skills,

As well as any aviation enthusiast looking for a new dimension in their simulator .

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There are other addons which include night lighting already (FTX Global, UTX). What is the difference to those products and are they compatible?

Night Environment is very different from the rest; for several reasons,

We provide our customers not only with 3D lights; but also new night textures.

Visibility of our Night Lighting System  cannot be beaten by any of the current competitor’s products, not in color vibrancy, accuracy, or visibility distance,

you will never see our lights light up as you approach them; they are always turned on long before you arrive to the area,

we pull a 65Nm radius of 3D lighting around you, at any given time!

our system works over everything!

default textures or photoreal, it doesn’t matter,

Our lighting system is designed to work and blend over everything with no acceptations!

we provide a new full replacement night layer texture; for the whole region we produce,

It’s not a few textures we call repetitively, it’s  a new layer that replaces the default night textures for the whole region; with our custom handmade “NightMap” textures! (Level 0).

since we don’t use repetitive textures; the nightmap is fully visible, colored and laid over the region completely

even if our 3D lighting is out of range; our night map splash is always visible

as it takes over all the night layer the simulator has for the region by default and uses our night map instead

you can up to space (over 75k ft) and look down and still be able to clearly identify roads and Intersections.

Our application is extremely modular in its architectural design,

this special design allow our end users to further optimize Night Environment  lighting system to their needs.

Realism was key during our development process; I’ve consulted real world pilots who provided me with real world feedback,

that included light color, splash, dynamic size, general look and feel of the lighting system, were all derived from real world pilots feedback;

nothing was spared or compromised during the development process.

all of Night Environment features I mentioned above; offer seamless integration with all existing third party addons,

there isn’t an application to date that we are not compatible with!

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How does Night Environment work? Is the lighting reduced at dusk/dawn and will it become brighter and brighter?

Night Environment works flawlessly with sim engine as a night layer,

It overwrites the existing night layer; be it default or Photoreal,

Our texture blends over the existing daytime imagery or default textures;

Our textures start to blend as the night falls and become more predominant,

then become lighter as the sun rises; to the point that everything disappear during day time; just like in the real world.

Can you give us a technological background of your work?

My work is mainly proprietary technology I’ve developed in-house,

It involved processing vector data into usable format our simulator can use;

The conversion and data processing times can vary from region to region.

How long does it take to develop one region?

It can take anywhere from two weeks to well over a month of 24/7 processing.

(I run little over 20 workstations simultaneously to cut production time)

What are the base datas you use?

We don’t produce random lights; our lights are derived from accurate real world data,

our 3D lights each get a dedicated splash with a matching color on the ground (these aren’t repetitive textures),

they are hand placed splash effect for each 3D light individually!

And is also the hardest part of our work, we create the ground splash that matches our 3D lights above ground manually,

We match the color of our 3D lights with – splash size, and the specific color that the specific 3D light is casting on the ground;

This is a manual painstaking process; where paint those manually on a special night texture,

We don’t use repetitive textures as our competitors do; we paint the whole regions night in advance!

Performance and resources seems to be very interesting to most simmers. What can you say regarding FPS drops and VAS usage?

Night Environment is not the lightest addon you can find out there,

We average anywhere from 250 to 450 VAS usage over our most heavy grids;

NE does require you to have a good Sim hardware to properly enjoy our work,

With that said; we deliver Night Environment with 3 preconfigured levels one can select to operate with;

You can select a less demanding level in such cases where a simmer already have  little RAM/VAS to spare,

On top of our preconfigured three levels, Night Environment architectural design is extremely modular

One can optimize our lighting system further to his specific need beyond our preconfigured levels.

I foresee in the near future most our users running on level 3 with no performance issue to consider,

This will soon be a thing of the past as LM moves to a x64 bit platform in not too far future;

We will be able to run a much more complex and resource heavy setup then we run now,

Night Environment will become a very light addon on these platforms.

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I read the you were in touch with Lockhead Martin to make NE compatible with Prepar3D v2.3. What did they answer

That’s is true, we are working with LM to make our sim better,

I am a big fan and supporter of P3D; have been since they published their first revision;

Night Environment was working well up to (including) v2.0,

With v2.1 release; followed by 2.2, we lost our compatibility during those two releases;

I have contacted LM engineers at that point; and started working with them addressing the issue,

I delivered one of our regions for them to test with (NECA); which they absolutely loved once they had it installed;

The issue was then traced in minutes and was fixed with v2.3 release,

They loved the concept so much; Zach H. promised he is taking this under his wing to further  optimize P3D and NE.

and what’s your opinion about the future of P3D?

I mentioned before I am a big supporter of LM’s P3D, I see their work as the future platform for top tier simulation,

The issues we currently have with VAS and RAM usage is going to be a thing of the pat very soon as we transition to the x64 platform,

The future looks very bright and promising; it is what we all been waiting patiently for long time now.

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What do you think, which NE region is most impressive in your personal opinion and your recommendation?

The one region that is close to my heart is my home town, Night Environment California,

The region I think is most impressive; id have to say night Environment Dubai v1.1

I like all the regions I worked on; they are each become very special as I go deeper into the region,

I try to learn it visually from imagery found online, then make sure the features match;

This process always bonds me to the region im working on;

when I get to see the final results; It’s always with a big grin on my face and a sense of satisfaction.

Is there a kind of roadmap for the next regions or how do you make your decisions?

We don’t have an exact roadmap for production,

We try to stay within the same area while we grow coverage in concentric circles,

Central Europe was the first area we concentrated on; on completion we will be focusing on north America coverage.

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Is it planned to develop NE for other simulators like X-Plane?

Xplane has a very good lighting system one can pre configure to look very much like Night Environment;

Granted, they don’t have our custom night map textures that matches the 3D lights, which makes a huge visual difference!

Im not sure it justifies making a version for XPlane; if such demand present itself in the future; I’ll be very happy to make that for the XPlane community.

or FS9?

As for FS9, although NE for FSX can run under FS9, we don’t support it;

NE is more suitable for the latest DirectX engines and hardware

Will there be a bundle available which includes more regions (with an attractive bundle price)?

Essentially yes; there will be some bundle offering later on to ease the cost for our customers

but this will take quite some time as our process allows us to generate a region once or twice a month

let’s not forget each region size we render is easily 1.5 GB for a small region

and can grow up to 4-6 GB for our larger regions; that is also a factor when bundling

Last question: are you working on your product at night?  ;)

When i go into production, its game on round the clock

I run 25/7 (I get up an hour early)

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