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Roads not taken: Anyone remember Viewterra?

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Blast from the past: A flight sim that might have been, but the time wasn't right, the stars were wrong, and the opportunity was lost.

 

I still have it on my HD but the servers apparently don't work anymore. Imagine where this tech would look like now if it had been pursued as a sim.

 

 

 


Orbx Beta Tester
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Interesting footage. No decent Oahu scenery available for any platform until today AFAIK. 


Hans Schmitz

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IMHO it's horrible (maybe because of the quality of the video).  I still like this - http://www.avsim.com/topic/488084-oahu/


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IMHO it's horrible (maybe because of the quality of the video).  I still like this - http://www.avsim.com/topic/488084-oahu/

 

Yes, video quality is horrible, which seems to be endemic for that period of time on YouTube. But as someone who actually had the demo though, I was impressed with the technical aspects: Real-time variable depth snow, realistic dust and windstorms, Moving trees, weather that responded to changes in temperature and humidity, real-time seasonal changes, seamless ground level to orbit transitions...... animated critters of all sorts wandering the terrain, global cloud coverage

 

Cities based on real building footprints... 

 

vieWTerra is an innovative, particularly immersive Earth viewer allowing seamless travel and unique building experience over the entire surface of the Globe in real-time 3D, with a complete freedom of movement in every direction from the bottom of the oceans to outer space. 

 

Utilizing VWorldTerrain technology's original procedural algorithms coupled to massive satellite databases, it addresses all sectors in need of a global Land-Air-Sea-Space simulation solution presenting almost photorealistic landscapes at any time of day, under all types of weather conditions, and allowing interactive quick scene building and more.

 

 

The list went on and on, and at a time we were still getting to grips with FSX. The pictures you linked to show the strengths of Photo-scenery seen from the correct heights, but also some of the weakness still often not addressed like the auto-gen that often has nothing to do with what its placed on top of.

 

All a Moot point of course, since the concept of Viewterra for flight simming has become one with the dinosaurs.

 

Still, an interesting blast from the past for me though, and I like to speculate internally sometimes as to where the tech could have gone if not for the legal infighting between the developers that kind of killed the original company. (Vterra still exists, but its not game oriented at all anymore)

 

(slightly) Higher quality Movies are available at some of the companies legacy sites if anyones curious: http://www.viewterra.net/main_video.htm

 


Orbx Beta Tester
Just Flight Beta Tester
 
We are all connected..... To each other, biologically...... To the Earth, chemically...... To the rest of the Universe atomically.
 
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Real-time variable depth snow, realistic dust and windstorms, Moving trees, weather that responded to changes in temperature and humidity, real-time seasonal changes, seamless ground level to orbit transitions...... animated critters of all sorts wandering the terrain, global cloud coverage

 

So, with regard to environmental effects and scenery, it already was much more advanced than current flight sims or even the snail-pace Outerra.

It could have become a great flight simulator.


"The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." [Abraham Lincoln]

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So, with regard to environmental effects and scenery, it already was much more advanced than current flight sims or even the snail-pace Outerra.

It could have become a great flight simulator.

 

All true, true.

 

Its a fact that the most advanced tech doesn't always win out. It can come down to the simple calculation of who has the loudest bullhorn, the deepest pockets and the best marketing...... As well as sheer dumb timing and luck, of course.

 

I think the tech was very competitive.... and the company much less so.


Orbx Beta Tester
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We are all connected..... To each other, biologically...... To the Earth, chemically...... To the rest of the Universe atomically.
 
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So, with regard to environmental effects and scenery, it already was much more advanced than current flight sims or even the snail-pace Outerra.

 

That might be overstating it, I think. You can do a lot with exclusive use of the CPU/GPU for scenery without having to also run a realistic flight model, including all the cockpit instrument animations. I don't think ViewTerra had a dynamic weather model either, let alone one that used real-world data. That's important for a flight sim. We may complain about the quality of weather in our sims (and I've been very vocal about it with X-Plane), but at least there *is* a dynamic weather model.

 

I'm also doubtful that all that pretty scenery included the accuracy we need for flight sims. We want accurate navaids, accurate runway GPS coordinates, orientation, elevation, and runway deviations from flat surfaces where that's important (like KAVX Catalina in X-Plane). For low-level VFR navigation we want roads that actually represent the real world, and are updated in the sim as the real-world changes. The more simplistic look outside the cockpit in flight sims is at least partly a result of prioritizing the things that matter. Whatever is left over in CPU/GPU power and programmer hours can be used for making the world look better, but it's not the starting point.

 

So yeah, the ViewTerra demos were nice eye candy and did a few things better than we can get even now, like those tropical shallow water colors (without being hand-placed bitmaps), or those nice sand dunes. The flat, dull water color in X-Plane drives me crazy sometimes. But there's a big difference between a terrain generator like ViewTerra or Outerra, and what we all need as core features in a flight sim.

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I don't think ViewTerra had a dynamic weather model either, let alone one that used real-world data.

 

Viewterra did indeed have a dynamic weather model, and in fact had it before FSX was even released. I don't think it was connected to realtime data, but don't see why that could'nt have been implemented. And remember, This was all as early as 2004:

 

• Advanced real-time Dynamic Weather System (DWS):

 

Real-time simulation of weather conditions, offering real-time modification of the following parameters:

 - Wind speed / direction (impacting clouds, sea states, vegetation, 3D objects like windmills or flags)

 - Cloud cover

 - Temperature

 - Snow cover (variable snow mantle) 

 - Precipitations (rain or snow depending on temperature)

 - Range (all weather parameters applied to a given area, extending or decreasing 

in a circle)

 - Visibility (changeable field of view, with more of less haze/fog in the distance) 

 

I'm also doubtful that all that pretty scenery included the accuracy we need for flight sims. We want accurate navaids, accurate runway GPS coordinates, orientation, elevation, and runway deviations from flat surfaces where that's important (like KAVX Catalina in X-Plane). For low-level VFR navigation we want roads that actually represent the real world, and are updated in the sim as the real-world changes.

 

Viewterra was primarily in geotiff format, with all the embedded coordinate, height and other data that this implied. It also had other Powerful GIS tools:

 

VieWTerra Evolution GIS Measuring Tools 

 

The vieWTerra Evolution Viewer comes with a set of sophisticated and user-friendly GIS measuring tools, including:

 

• 2D Measuring Tool: measures the distance between 2 or more points 

• 3D Measuring Tool: measures the distance between 2 or more points while taking the elevation into consideration

• Surface Measuring Tool: determines the surface of any area, including whole countries or continents 

• Height Measuring Tool: measures the height of any object or geographical feature

• Profile Tool: measures the (Elevation) profile for a line drawn between 2 or more points. Results are shown as a 2D graph with detailed information. Also takes into account objects detected along the profile as an option. Visualization of the same targeted point-associated information into the 2D and the 3D Window. 

• Horizon Tool: measures the horizon, 360 degrees around a chosen point. Results are shown as a graph with detailed information and extra visualization capabilities showing 2D display of ridge-lines, view-sheds, elevations (attributing a color ramp to different altitudes) , objects detection etc. . Visualization of the same targeted point-associated information into the 2D and the 3D Window.

 

But there's a big difference between a terrain generator like ViewTerra or Outerra, and what we all need as core features in a flight sim.

 
And that's kind of the subtext of my post. There are a lot of ingrained assumptions we have about the technical superiority of our current offerings. But how much of it is incontrovertibly true, especially nowadays?
 
In fact, given that Vworld was out there in 2004, was it ever true, or as I sometimes suspect, have we as a community fallen into a pretty deep Microsoft shaped rut?
 
As a fan of X-plane, you probably realize how hard it is to turn the speeding train of Microsoft-centrality (Locked tightly onto its path after ten years) onto any other course; even just for a look-see.
 
And with that being the case, how much harder does anything else have to try, in order to get an unbiased hearing? Especially in those days, when like flowers pointing towards the sun, this community was pretty much all Microsoft, all the time?
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Orbx Beta Tester
Just Flight Beta Tester
 
We are all connected..... To each other, biologically...... To the Earth, chemically...... To the rest of the Universe atomically.
 
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We do seem to be stuck (as you say) in a Microsoft based rut at the moment. For all its improvements over FSX, P3D is still based on the same technology, and so is Dovetail's upcoming 64bit simulator. I know that X-Plane has been around for a long time, but it has not done enough to send its Microsoft based rivals crashing to the ground. Whilst I enjoy flying around a photoreal rendition of the UK in my A2A Simulations Piper Cherokee, a part of me is getting a bit sick and tired of using the same old base technology year after year. In fact, that "same old" issue with respect to MSFS is precisely why I stuck exclusively with Flight Unlimited 3 from 1999 to 2008. I would love to see a completely new flight simulator engine that blows everything we have now out of the (beautifully animated and realistic) water :wink:


Christopher Low

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Cool... I didn't know ViewTerra had a weather model. I still think it might not have been the kind of weather model you'd want in a flight sim, not without a ton of work anyway. Things like icing, microbursts, convection inside CB's, or ridge line updrafts? Winds aloft and the Jet Stream?

 

Those are things you wouldn't care about, if the terrain engine was being used for a car racing sim. That's the downside of a general-purpose terrain generator. Maybe that stuff could have been added for a flight sim version of Vewterra, but it may not be as easy as when the weather is more tightly integrated with the flight model. 

 

As a fan of X-plane, you probably realize how hard it is to turn the speeding train of Microsoft-centrality (Locked tightly onto its path after ten years) onto any other course; even just for a look-see.

 
And with that being the case, how much harder does anything else have to try, in order to get an unbiased hearing? Especially in those days, when like flowers pointing towards the sun, this community was pretty much all Microsoft, all the time?

 

 

Well, the elephant in the room and what makes the ship hard to turn (too many mixed metaphors?) is backwards compatibility. All the stuff we're used to having with the current platforms. No flight sim developer can manage to do everything; they need the 3rd party support (arguably one of the main things that killed MS Flight). Even though DTG's new sim isn't backwards compatible on the user side, I'm sure there is a great deal of "compatibility" for getting 3rd parties on board for new planes and scenery, since they're using modified FSX code and file structure.

 

That's what would have killed off a ViewTerra flight sim, if they couldn't have brought the likes of Carenado and PMDG aboard, regardless of the scenery quality. The only reason we're gettng a little more interest in X-Plane now, is that we've had Carenado/Alebeo for a while now, and PMDG is starting to develop planes for it. Also that new IXEG 737 is bringing some people over, especially for night flying. 

 

What are the chances a new hotshot terrain and sky generator could get any traction as a flight sim, while we still have all this legacy stuff as competition? Sometimes I think the only way the hobby could really be shaken up is with a major change in the underlying computing platform. Like a new OS that these older flight sim engines couldn't handle, or maybe when VR evolves to the point where we're jacking directly into our nervous system and that's how we fly. I don't think FSX code will cut it there. :)

 

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What are the chances a new hotshot terrain and sky generator could get any traction as a flight sim, while we still have all this legacy stuff as competition? Sometimes I think the only way the hobby could really be shaken up is with a major change in the underlying computing platform. Like a new OS that these older flight sim engines couldn't handle, or maybe when VR evolves to the point where we're jacking directly into our nervous system and that's how we fly. I don't think FSX code will cut it there. :)

 

Anyone new will probably have to enter the field aiming their offerings at the next generation of simmers..... Like DTG already recognizes, I suspect.

 

In the case of Outerra for instance, if they were exclusively a flight sim, I wouldn't give them the proverbial snowballs chance, despite all the potentials of their tech. The current market is likely too deeply into the FSX chasm to ever be pried out directly.

 

I think newcomers will have to approach it from another angle, positioning themselves less as dedicated flightsims (Niche!!) and more as one of the ever more popular universe sandboxes (preferably heavily VR capable) that also has very good flightsim capabilities. (should anyone ever wish to take advantage of them)

 

That way they have a chance of widespread success across genres, which equals money for development, which might equal the possibility of a flightsim offshoot.......

 

Pure speculation... but its a surety that the world is not exactly rushing to produce dedicated civilian sims any other way.

 

A backdoor approach might be required.

 

.

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Orbx Beta Tester
Just Flight Beta Tester
 
We are all connected..... To each other, biologically...... To the Earth, chemically...... To the rest of the Universe atomically.
 
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A backdoor approach might be required..

 

Maybe, but I'm still skeptical about the general-purpose simulation approach. So much about flying is so highly specialized. Just look at the controls we use, which don't map well to other vehicle simulations like cars, tanks, or trains. Not just controls but also gateways like FSUIPC for external hardware and displays.There's no getting around the fact that we're a highly specialized audience.

 

The one thing I could maybe see happening one day, is a combination civilian and combat sim. Something like a merging of DCS World and FSX/P3D (or X-Plane). A good transport jet or helicopter flight model could be adapted for both civilian and military models, just like they are in real life. It just seems wasteful to be duplicating all this world building and flight modeling in separate programs, when there is a natural affinity there. Maybe one day.


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So much about flying is so highly specialized.

 

Which might be another way of saying "deeply niche"

 

But that niche is very tiny relatively. Tiny enough that for a company developing a sim, making their money back (much less making a profit) is very very far from assured. If this wasn't the case, then civilian sims would abound.

 

Non-military narrow focus sims just can't seem to make (enough) money in the modern market, except for third parties (or maybe somebody like DTG who finds a way to cut some slices from the third party pie)

 

If (mostly from familiarity, I think) we keep to a pattern of ultra-specialized narrow interest product offerings, we can't really expect much to change.

 

Doing the same thing and expecting different results is a pretty famous non-starter.


Orbx Beta Tester
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But that niche is very tiny relatively. Tiny enough that for a company developing a sim, making their money back (much less making a profit) is very very far from assured. If this wasn't the case, then civilian sims would abound.

 

Yep, and it's worth mentioning that both of the companies that have actually been continuing development of civilian sims in recent years -- Lockheed Martin with P3D and Laminar with X-Plane -- don't need to be doing this. What does LM care about income from civilian sims when they're raking in megabucks from the F-35 contract? And what does Austin care when he has the much more expensive FAA certified version of X-Plane to sell, and he treats the sim (basically) as his personal toy for practicing procedures for his GA planes? We're getting better turboprop modeling now, and it's no coincidence that Austin bought a turboprop plane in recent years to follow the Cirrus. Maybe we'll get better supersonic modeling in X-Plane if he buys a vintage Soviet fighter to play with. :)

 

Anyway, the point is that for both these companies, the civilian sims we all fly are just an offshoot of more "serious" products where they actually earn their income. That's also why the 3rd party ecosystem can thrive, because neither LM nor Laminar want to get involved in it. With DTG's new sim, they can take a stab at it because they have their train sim business to stay afloat, even if the new flight sim isn't widely accepted. 

 

My basic take on it, is that we're very lucky we have all three of these companies moving civilian flight sims forward. I'd gladly pay for something better, but I don't see it coming from general-purpose simulation efforts. At least not any time soon. 


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Anyway, the point is that for both these companies, the civilian sims we all fly are just an offshoot of more "serious" products where they actually earn their income. That's also why the 3rd party ecosystem can thrive, because neither LM nor Laminar want to get involved in it. With DTG's new sim, they can take a stab at it because they have their train sim business to stay afloat, even if the new flight sim isn't widely accepted.

 

And nobody should have the slightest doubt that DTG will be deep in the third party market themselves.

 

 

 

My basic take on it, is that we're very lucky we have all three of these companies moving civilian flight sims forward. I'd gladly pay for something better, but I don't see it coming from general-purpose simulation efforts. At least not any time soon. 

 

My standard answer to that is "Time will tell"  :Ying Yang:

 

Honestly, I've been told so many times that things I thought were interesting ranged in status from "very unlikely" to "flat out impossible" enough times, only to see whatever it was actually happen a few years later, (and sometimes not) that I've taken up a very calm view of the whole thing.

 

:lol:  :lol:  :lol:  

 


Orbx Beta Tester
Just Flight Beta Tester
 
We are all connected..... To each other, biologically...... To the Earth, chemically...... To the rest of the Universe atomically.
 
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