Report 050: Aircraft development

Well here it is the report number 50.
This report took me some time; I was sure what I wanted to show and tell, but at the same time it was difficult to decide how exactly I wanted to do that.

But before go ahead with the report, let me just say that I still don’t have no idea when it will be released.
I’m trying to speed up everything that I can, but in this case was either bad luck or bad timing.
I was aware that this process could either be easy or it could take quite a while. Usually the worst part is having a cover that everyone agrees, I was expecting the same but surprisingly the new cover was immediately approved. The trailer also went by fast, but don’t worry, I feel as soon the release really picks up the pace everything will be resolved in only a few days

With that out of the way, let’s move on.

So, what exactly this report will be about?

Well to celebrate 50th report, this one will be quite different from others, this time the theme won’t be about a new mechanic or content, instead it will reveal the processes of making new aircrafts. But no! Not a tutorial.

I think this is quite an important topic as I’m certain that when the game is released, there will be very often questions about when some plane will be available.

To address that, this report will also reveal which units are currently in progress and which particular step they are in at the moment.
Also to play a bit, I’ll also show some images and hints of units that are to come.

Making a new aircrafts can be a though process. Making an entirely new aircrafts can range from 2 to 6 weeks. And making a new variant can range from a day to a week.
As expected, the time it takes can vary depending of the shape of the aircrafts but also the information available.

About this, some fun facts, the quickest family to make was the Mirage F1, the slower and most troublesome it was the EF-2000, it was so troublesome that it earned some kind nicknames from myself.
It is not that I don’t like that plane, but I also don’t know why, but it was a pain to make.

Usually, about the time spend, when we think of the production of the new aircrafts the most common thought is the modeling phase, but while that takes a significant amount of time, very often that is not the most time consuming step.

But well that is why this report is here; to give the players a better perception of steps required to make a completely new aircraft:

Everything starts with the gathering all the materials involved to the aircraft.
But in this phase is just randomly collecting stuff while surfing in the web, without any organization or plan.

This is because, and I must confess that in most of the cases when I start this phase I feel that I don’t know practically anything about that aircraft.
But this is where I start to get an idea the potential size of the aircraft. Some already surprised me for having a lot more variants than I expected

For this step I only use simple online searches, and stuff that was posted in the forums.

Also to note, this steps usually takes place while other units are in development, so everything can be gathered with no rush, but this also means when I start to this phase is an indication that that I plan to begin the development of this plane soon.

Notable families that are in this state:

  • F-18
  • Rafale
  • X-32
  • Tornado

This phase starts when I begin to be a lot more active in looking for all information available about the aircraft, so I can gather everything and plan the development.

By let me start saying this, it may sound strange, but this IS indeed the most time consuming phase.
Initially one may think that making the game model is the critical part, but in order do that a lot of information must be gathered to recreate the models as faithful as possible.

To achieve that and to be fast and accurately as possible a lot of references are required.
The internet can be a valuable source, but as expected not every information can be found there.

So other valuable source of information is the traditional books.

These are just some of the reference books I’ve been collecting. A lot of information can be found here that is hard to find anywhere else.
They have been a great help, not only at developing aircrafts but every other unit type.

There is another source for reference that I realized that could be extremely valuable in helping modeling the aircrafts, plastic scale models.

This idea came because I was already a modeler before starting this project, so one day I remembered that I had some aircraft models stored and tried to use them as reference. I was immediately surprised how helpful they can be.

Not only but especially in the modeling phase, most of the times some aircrafts have strange surface details that are hard to understand using only blueprints or even with the help of pictures, but the scale models provide a unique view to the shape of the aircraft without most of the noise that makes it hard to perceive it.

With this I noticed on thing, the better is my mental image of the aircraft the quicker it is to make the 3d model of it.
So usually before starting a new aircraft from scratch I play around with the kit to have a good perception how it is shaped.

Also after seeing how helpful they can be, I started to gather some kits.
Most of them I have them already build, but I still have a small backlog.
Usually I build them with enough time in advance so I don’t need to stop at the 3d modeling to wait to have the scale model to be finished.

Also here is part of the backlog that I here in the office:

From this you can already guess what will be the next aircrafts to be added.
Of course I’m not always able to have a scale model with me, in that case I need to use other references or try to see pictures of the scale model in the internet.

And here is the finished models I have here with me, they are also a good hint of what is to come of what is already being worked on:

Can you name all the models in this picture?

Fortunately for me, I already was a collector of aircrafts scale models before starting VT and back then gave them a proper finish, but now they are mostly used as reference material so they don’t need to be painted.

But on rare occasions, when I have the opportunity, I like to pickup one of these models make them into a finish display piece.

These are the ones I have here with me:

The D-21 already broke off from the SR-71.

The others models that I’ve build before starting this were already used as reference and while doing that they also suffered a lot of accidents in serving as valuable reference material, so usually after they finish the job I store them in a safe place.

And that is what usually happens to every after being used as reference, these models usually end up with some pieces broken

One poor guy was the F-35 kit, thanks to him I was able to understand the intricate surface details at the bottom f the aircraft, but at the cost that this kit suffered a lot in my hands.

Like this:

The F-35B surrounded by other pieces that broke off and unused ammunition.

Considering this, I believe that it can be used in the credits the typical phrase, but in this case:
“Several Aircraft models were hurt during the development of this game”

But moving on, besides reference books and model kits, other valuable source for 3d modeling is aircrafts pictures, especially up-close, the ones known as workarounds.

Pictures that capture the whole vehicles are great, but these up close shots are the best.

There are quite a few sites that provide great pictures for that, although it can be hard to find stuff for the newer planes.

Practically almost all pictures that I use are from the internet, but although not very often I also gather some myself.

I would like to someday add this plane to the game, with this skin.

Notable families that are in this state:

  • Mirage 5
  • Mirage 2000

So after having everything the research, then it is time to work on the blueprints.

How this is done?
It starts by pacing all the gathered blue prints on top of others to see where the common parts are.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
But it can actually be quite tricky.

Right from the start I must choose the most reliable blueprint. For this blueprint it must have both a good resolution and accurate details.
After that, there is another tricky part, very often each blueprint has unique proportions, so overlaying two blueprints it can be very misleading in hinting shapes when in reality there is no change in that area .

After organizing several blue prints on study their relation they start looking like this

As you see the lines only roughly match, so it is important to have a good knowledge in where in reality these variants change.

Of course they are not used this way, they are worked individually, but they are placed this way not only to study the relation between each variant, but to also this give a rough idea how much space will be required in the UV mapping to cover all variants, this is very important as it helps me plan ahead unusual variants so I don’t need to re-map everything from scratch.
There have been some cases were that this didn’t happened, one example was the F-16XL, in that case I had to do the mapping all over again, that is why that variant was kept in development hell for quite a bit of time.

Notable families that are in this state:

  • F-5
  • Mitsubishi F1/T2

So after the blueprints are organized, I pick again the most reliable, throw it to the modeling program and start working on it.

A development pipeline that I feel is the most efficient is making the first model not a known variant, but instead a combination of the most common elements.
This means that I´m actually making fictional variant that in the end it will be unused, but after exporting it to the game and confirming that is everything is ok, I go back to editing this variant and use it as base to make each individual variant, usually starting from the closest to the common variant and end with the wildest aircrafts.

However there are some cases that this can´t be done and requires making multiple planes from scratch, for example this family:

YF-23 and F-23 are very similar, and they may look identical at first sight, but the shape of the body is completely different.

Other example is the MiG-23-01 and MiG-23-11, completely different models, they don’t share a single vertice.

Notable families that are in this state:

  • J-31
  • YF-23
  • Super Tucano

This is where the panel lines and paint scheme are added; in this I’m also include the process of mapping the vehicle.

Something to note is especially the processes of mapping, this phase can vary greatly the time it takes depending on the planes, flying wings are usually the easiest to make, in other hand, some of the older and slower aircrafts have a lot of intricate details, like the Su-25, making this step much more time consuming.

Concept or fictional designs, most of the times are a breeze to make, because the panel lines are guess work based in similar aircrafts of the same time and maker while trying to stay faithful to the available material.

However as usual, real aircrafts require studying a lot of the blueprints and photos available to determine were the panel lines should be added. And I can’t use just one or two blueprints as a reference, there were multiple cases that these blue prints were completely wrong, in this case walk around photos are really important

Also, if you see this type of reveal:

It means that at least the model has reached this step, and while you may think it is ready to go to the game you will notice now that there are quite a few steps ahead.

Notable families that are in this state:

This phase is where everything is exported to the game.

Very often this process happens before everything from the steps above are completed, the reason for this is to proof-check the progress so far and be able to changes the texture or the model without scraping too much work.

This is one example of a unit that reached phase but it will have to back to the modeling phase to make some improvements.

Note: is not that I don’t like you, EF2000, but I cont feel a good connection between us.

In this process also includes adding audio and visual effects. After this point, the aircrafts can be used as a in-game preview like some that you already have seen.

In this process the concept and fictional variants also have the advantage, unless something as gone terribly wrong there is hardly any reason to go back to the modeling phase.

Notable families that are in this state:

  • MiG-31
  • X-36
  • EF-2000 (this one will have to go back to modeling phase)

Well this is like the tin says, after the aesthetic part is ready, the model can finally be animated.

In this phase there no real difference in development time between real and concept models, the only distinction is that in the real models I need to be careful to animate the right moving parts. But even if I make some mistake it is quite easy to fix

Notable families that are in this state:

  • J-7/F-7

The following step is to gameplay values for the flight model and other details

If the game only had the very well know aircrafts, I have not doubts that the specs would have been base what is often perceived by the general public.
So it means an aircraft would be as good as it reputation.

But all this lesser known aircrafts and variants forced me to try something different.
Also one of the main design philosophies in the game is trying to be fair and avoid stereotypes.
So the solution was to make a system that would give me the game values depending on the easiest values to get weight, surface area, wing aspect ratio, etc.
But you may ask, how do you get the weight? Well, I use the same relation between volume and weight of a know variant or a very similar unit, as I’ve seen the values are usually very close so I have confidence this is the best approach.

These calculations were based in real flight dynamics, but I hardly believe they are accurate, but that is not the goal, go true aim is to everything be proportional and follow the same rules without bias.

This also completely fixes the problem of the fictional or wild variants; you probably may not notice the first time you play, but it is interesting to notice how much the performance changes with a simple modification in the wing design.

Notable families that are in this state:

  • MiG-23/27
  • F-4

After all that has been done this is the considered as the final step, so the aircraft can be released to the public.

This is where the aircraft is armed with its respective weapons, usually starting with the sub weapon, main weapon and ending with the special weapons.
But as soon it is equipped with the first two it can already be considered playable.

In this phase is also were I make the actual weapons for the aircraft in case there are not in the game yet.

After everything has been done, the last step is to add functional weapons bay. One reason for this goes to the fact that some units use very specific weapons and these weapons must be already done before adding the functional weapons bay so I can be sure they really fit inside.

Notable families that are in this state:

  • F-14
  • F-22 (Weapons bay)
  • F-35 (Weapons bay)

All the steps above are required the ones to make the aircraft playable, but in order to everything be truly complete, there is one other step required, make their respective challenge.

But to make good, tight and fun challenge, everything above must be truly complete, from the weapons selection to the aircraft behavior.
At the moment, only one third of the aircrafts available have cleared this phase, the rest is waiting for one of these reasons, either have their development truly closed, or waiting for new gamplay mechanics to add more variety in the challenges.

The early access will also help in this, not only to give more ideas, but also to balance the existing ones. During these last days I’m been organizing what will be released in the following updates and I plan to release a constant stream of a handful of challenges, probably less than ten, I feel that is enough to give time to everyone be able to play them before releasing the next update.

So that is it, I think the timing report was also suitable to give an idea what are the aircrafts more likely to appear after the early access release. I’m not sure if there will be another report before the release, but if that happens it will again back to the usual style.

Stay tuned, more reports will follow.


Posted on July 18, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Looking forward to this game man, hope it does well. 🙂

  2. If the AST-21/ASF-14 isn’t in the game, I’ll be very disappointed.

  3. > Eurofighter without canards


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