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November 11th 2010 02:55 pm
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Evolution of the virtual cockpit
When starting to work on the iPad version, I quickly realized that the larger screen also made it necessary to change the field of view to a more PC like experience. On the iPhone and iPod everything was focused on the head up display, which in order to remain readable, filled the entire screen.
Simply scaling everything up on the iPad didn't look good, so I decided to keep the size of the HUD approximately the same, thus use the extra pixels on the iPad to create a wider field of view:

Not bad, but real shuttle pilots can't actually enjoy that panorama - they sit in a cramped cockpit with relatively small windows. So it quickly became evident that the iPad version needed to show parts of that cockpit in order for that wider field of view to work. The first thing I've added were the windows:

Much better!
The original plan was to only add the PDU chassis below the HUD's image combiners and use a fixed field of view and viewing angle. But then we decided to let the user choose these parameters and use multitouch gestures to look around and zoom in and out. Thus a 3D model of virtually the entire flight-deck was needed.
Here's a very early version with just basic lighting:

The HUD in version 1.4 was actually a little bit larger than the HUD in the real orbiter in order to fill the entire screen. But since the new version would allow the user to change the position and zoom level (and the new HUD had to properly fit into the rest of the flight console) I had to rework it to more closely resemble the real thing. The image above already shows the new HUD.
It also shows how important lighting is - without proper lighting, everything looks just flat. So I used a 3D renderer to simulate how light would propagate inside the flightdeck. This is a time consuming task and can't be done in realtime, so the result of these computations was "baked" onto a 2D texture map which is now used by F-SIM's realtime renderer:

The above image shows the flight deck without textures, but with pre-rendered global illumination. Looks much more realistic, don't you think?
This too was an early version with a lot of problems, e.g. there were tiny holes below the windows which normally couldn't be seen, but in this case you can see light entering from below the windows.
For comparison, here's the same flight deck with textures, the pilots HUD and seats added, but withough lighting:

Nice, but not very convincing.
Ok, now let's see how it looks once we combine the textures and the pre-rendered lighting. Here are four screenshots taken inside the finished virtual cockpit on the iPad:





So, what about the iPhone/iPod version?
With the default field of view, the HUD still fills the entire screen, but you can now move back or zoom out and you'll get the same virtual cockpit the iPad version features on your iPhone or iPod. It looks pretty cool, especially on new devices with a retina display.

The new version has already been submitted to Apple and is currently in review. It's a universal build, that means a single version that will run on any iOS device (you won't have to pay twice if you've got an iPhone and an iPad for example). And of course the update is, as always, completely free.
I hope you'll like it!

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©2010 Sascha Ledinsky
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