How FlyByWire Simulations Models the A32NX & A380 in Microsoft Flight Simulator

January 18, 2021

Welcome to part three of our interview series with FlyByWire Simulations, with this final part set to cover modelling in Microsoft Flight Simulator with Pleasure and DarkOfNova, two primary contributors in the modelling department for the open-source developer.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve sat down with some just a few of the project’s contributors, including leaders in the visual, systems and sound departments. In this series, we aim to give some insight into the inner workings of FlyByWire Simulations, how they came to be and where they’re going in the future.

You can find part one, which delves into the foundation and future of FlyByWire, here - or see part two, which covers systems and sound integration in the new simulator here.

Let’s begin. First up, how did you come to find out about the team and when did you join?

>> Pleasure: I joined the team after it already started on Discord. I found out about the team on the MSFS Discord as I was looking for a more immersive airliner. I applied to join when I thought I could help the project.

>> DarkOfNova: I joined the team a few days after the announcement but had not been inaugurated into the dev team for a while. I initially joined the server to follow the progress of a fellow ex-dev.

As a modeler in FlyByWire, what projects are you working on specifically? If it involves modification of the default A320, how would you approach implementing your work, considering there have been some murmurings about default aircraft being encrypted? 

>> Pleasure: The default aircraft are not encrypted. However, I have heard that the deluxe and premium deluxe ones are. Until recently, we were modeling in the preparation of the importer/exporter working. However, one of our developers has recently developed a script that lets us add models to the base aircraft - this is how we were able to finally add the EFB.

>> DarkOfNova: I myself am currently more focused on the A380 development. We have a brilliant team of modelers who are all producing amazing work which hopefully you will see sooner than later.

Have you previously worked on the X-Plane platform?

>> Pleasure: I have previously not worked on X-Plane, I have worked on several modding teams in other games though, and worked for a small game studio briefly.

>> DarkOfNova: I previously have helped in the development of an incomplete freeware A220 for X-Plane, but in all honesty, it was just some mild modeling work as at the time I was more focused on personal growth.

Adobe Substance is an increasingly prevalent software to texture 3D assets in the flight simulation community (which is already standard in the gaming industry), replacing traditional hand-worked raster photo editing software like Photoshop – have you used Substance, and would you go to use it for FBW development?

>> Pleasure: We are currently using Substance for most of the texture work we do. There are some exceptions where Substance can’t be used very reliably - decals is one example.

>> DarkOfNova: Substance is a must for any texture artist in this day and age, it reduces workload by an immeasurable amount and is very intuitive to use. After being introduced to Substance around 3 years ago, I’ve never been able to go back.

Coming from an X-Plane background, the PBR texture formatting of Microsoft Flight Simulator appears similar in implementation, albeit with the use of the red channel for AO. Besides those differences, is the process different from X-Plane in any other way?

>> Pleasure: I do not know what X-Plane uses, but MSFS uses a PBR workflow like most games nowadays. Albedo with an alpha channel which has the color and transparency information. 

A normal map texture which uses light to fake depth. A  Comp texture (Compilation) “ARM” (AO, Roughness, Metalness) in RGB Red = AO, Green = Roughness and Blue = Metalness Channels. And if needed, an emissive map (glowing Texture). It also has the option for a detailed normal and some less used textures.

Microsoft Flight Simulator’s adoption of an open model format (gltf) has raised ethical issues surrounding copyright protection (as its format are openly accessible to a wider range of 3D programs in contrast to the .mdl format used previously) Does the team have any plans to counter the potential for your work to be mis-used?

>> Pleasure: I can only speak for my models, in which case I am fine with other people using it because we are open source. We do however require credit if any of our mod is used, as it is licensed under GPL v3.  

>> DarkOfNova: As Pleasure stated, we are an open-source project therefore anything we make can be viewed and changed by anyone. Our mod is licensed under the GPL v3 license which allows other creators to use our models, in exchange they have to make their project open source too.

Performance-wise, are there any considerations on how to specifically model the aircraft? FS2020’s demanding system requirements presumably cater towards users with upper mid-range to high-end systems. Does the team’s outlook on system requirements differ, from a visual standpoint?

>> Pleasure: The engine supposedly prefers polygons over texture size, however, we still try to keep the polygon count low so that players do not experience big performance hits. We do however try to get as much detail as we can. It's always a mix between looks and performance. But of course we will target at least mid-range systems.

Progress on the A380X's lower pedestal, published just earlier today.

Embarking on an A380 project is one very ambitious plan, developers stray away from it due to its complexity – but your commitment to bring an A380 regardless is very inspiring. 

From a visual standpoint - would this be the team’s first-ever fully developed aircraft (sans reliance on default aircraft)?

>> Pleasure: Yes and no. Some of our members have created fully working aircraft, but never in this magnitude or detail. However, our team is very experienced and I have no doubts that this will be possible. The question is the time because, as people who work for free, we of course have different amounts of time and we have to work around some of the scheduling for that, which is the hard part.

>> DarkOfNova: Ambitious, sure, but definitely not impossible. I’m sure over at Threshold you guys have covered many freeware projects (especially for X-Plane) and have seen many of them never come to fruition. A lot separates FlyByWire from these other teams - the experienced A380 pilots and technicians we consult, the sheer number of developers at our disposal, our experience simulating modern Airbus systems (which we can build off of), and especially our open-source model.

There you have it! The team very much backs themselves and considering the enormous support they’ve garnered from most all corners of the budding Microsoft Flight Simulator community, they’ll doubtlessly have the experience behind them. 

Once again, we’d like to thank Pleasure and DarkOfNova for taking the time to answer our questions - and to the wider team at FlyByWire for being so open and accommodating in order to make this series possible. 

To check out the previous parts in this series, check out these links - part one can be found here and part two here.

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