Continuing with our series of "Meet the Developers", I would like to present a small chat I had with Bernd Podhradsky, lead developer of FS Global Real Weather, a new entrant in the Weather Generator arena for Flight Simulator, currently supporting FSX/P3D and FS9.
The first I heard of this weather engine was a discussion here in Avsim, so I followed up with some more research: various forums were indeed discussing it and the developer was active in just about all of them, answering questions and addressing any bugs or requests.
I then tried the demo....just over 5Mb file with no textures and an incredibily simple interface. The demo allows you to download a weather file and inject it up to 8 times into your simulator. The Flight Planner and Dynamic Weather injections are not available in DEMO mode. Initial impressions were rather good, it was simple and did what it said it would.
I approached Bernd to tell us a little more about the program, what he intends to provide the users and what the future holds. Fortunately, he was more than willing to chat to us, Avsim folk, and explain FS Global Real Weather:
1: Bernd, can you please give us a background on the team behind FS Global Real Weather? When did this project start and what made you decide on a weather engine?
Actually, the development of FS Global Real Weather started accidentally; Stefan Schäfer, who's the CEO of PILOT'S (well known for FS Global Mesh products) called me and asked for a simple tool to inject METAR into Prepar3D, because he wanted to have real weather when testing other add-ons (and P3D lacks the real-world weather feature FSX had). Once I started to build know-how on how to do this, I tested some other weather engines and we both came to the conclusion, that none of them fulfilled our requirements (or better let's say: we thought of many things that could make a weather engine even more sophisticated) - and the rest is a combination of many night shifts, thousands of lines of source code, many hours of know-how-building and a lot of coffee .
The team behind FS Global Real Weather is Stefan Schäfer, who's the project manager and publisher, myself as the developer of FS Global Real Weather and many other people (pilots, meteorologists etc.) contributing to the tool.
2 - What is the target for FSGRW? Is it accuracy? is it integration? adaptability? future growth?
Accuracy is most important for us; other weather engines mostly seem to be METAR translators. Of course, they have many more features and tons of options to play with, but they don't accurately simulate the atmosphere. METARs simply won't tell the whole truth. Typical examples are exact visibility values (what visibility is there when the METAR tells you it's 9999?), CAVOK (this doesn't necessarily mean that there are no clouds) and the fact, that not all cloud layers are reported in METAR. Also, METAR stations don't cover the globe; we wanted to provide realistic weather over oceans and areas with less METAR stations.
That's where the idea of "getting as much real-weather source data as we can get" came from. Still, METAR is an important weather source for us. But it's not the only one. Our weather servers collect real-world weather data, feed it into a model of the atmosphere and creates a weather collection file with global coverage. The client application downloads the finished weather file and thus has not much performance impact, because all the sophisticated stuff is going on on the servers. This cloud approach was also necessary due to the amount of source data we use for weather creation (which totals to about 1 GB for each weather file created - way too much to download on every client).
Apart from that, we want to support as many simulators as possible to give as many simulator users as possible the chance to enjoy the most realistic weather. We started with FSX / P3D support and added FS2004 support in one of the previous updates. X-Plane will be the next simulator that we're working on.
3 - There are a few weather engines out there, each injects weather in a different way to the simulator engine, and we hear of wind shifts (number one complaint), clouds popping or disappearing, weather refresh issues, FSX native issues which cannot be overcome, etc...what is your approach? how does FSGRW inject weather and what can we expect to see in your program?
Some of the mentioned issues are due to the "nature" of FSX (in other words: thank you ACES team!). Thinking about the injection of weather into flight simulator was the second big step in our development process (the first one being the creation of realistic weather).
What's kind of unique for us is that we only work with station mode. Some popular weather engines use Global Mode, which basically means, that only one kind of weather is set in the simulator (and you see it from horizon to horizon), updating as your flight progresses. This was not an option for us, because we want users to see towering cumulus clouds in the far distance to actually fly around them.
Also, we don't want the weather at the aircraft position to suddenly change with every new injection. We wanted smooth transitions from different weather systems as your flight progresses, which we've also achieved (and there will be major improvements in the next update to this).
The most important fact, however, was wind shifts: wind shifts are simply not acceptable for any serious virtual pilot. With other weather engines, I very often experienced crashes being 5 hours into a long haul flight over the pacific, because my poor Level-D 767 couldn't cope with sudden wind shifts - not something that you want to happen very often. Our wind smoothing algorithm never failed so far and we didn't have a single occurrence of sudden wind shifts.
A unique feature we have are local weather effects; these are hand-crafted effects unique for a specific airport or region (for example downwinds, wind shear, and turbulence in Madeira). Whenever weather conditions at certain airports would lead to those effects in reality, we simulate it in FSX / P3D / FS2004. Lots of these effects will be added after the next update is released.
4 - Some weather programs have different ways of presenting weather, depending on upper winds (also called winds aloft). How do you present upper winds in your program? What about areas over water?
We have real-world sources for winds aloft (from ~2.000 ft up to 50.000 ft) with global coverage. Areas over water will also have realistic weather conditions, because we don't stick to METARs. So you will have accurate weather over areas of water.
5 - Is there a way to customize what weather data to be used in your weather engine?
The short answer is: no. It's our weather servers that create the weather and compile all the sources, there's nothing like that happening on the clients. However, we have some options to control what is going to be sent to your simulator (i.e. you can choose to not have upper air turbulence - which we also get from real weather sources - to be sent to flight simulator).
6 - Would you recommend the use of FSUIPC or any other program to assist in wind control with FSGRW?
FS Global Real Weather requires FSUIPC to be installed (this is currently optional for FSX/P3D but will be must with the next update). We recommend to turn off all weather settings of FSUIPC and just use our own algorithms (such as wind smoothing).
7 - Your program does not carry cloud or sky textures...does it matter which texture set we use? Is there any particular set that will work better with how FSGRW tries to present the weather?
Absolutely not. FSGRW is compatible with every texture set out there and we don't recommend a specific one. Just choose whatever you think looks most realistic.
8 - Can we expect FSGRW to work well with other programs that simlate motion, like EZDOCK, Opus Cameras, AccuFeel?
I don't use any of the add-ons mentioned; however, if they stick to standard interfaces of the simulator to get their data from (i.e. if there's turbulence or not) then it will work. However, we're open to every integration request.
9 - From the developer's point of view, how can we get the most out of your program?
One of the main design concepts of FS Global Real Weather is simplicity for the user; we don't want thousands of options to choose from (although we couldn't avoid all of them) and the configuration you have after a fresh installation is one where you can just fire up your simulator, jump into the cockpit, download and inject the weather and start flying. You don't need to manually reset AI traffic etc - FS Global Real Weather does it for you.
10 - I see you have provided an update already, what else can we expect from FSGRW in the next few months? What improvements are you working on?
Some improvements I'm currently working on are:
.) Visibility Smoothing for FS2004 to prevent sudden visibility changes
.) A lot more local weather effects
.) More realistic wind simulation (slight variations in speed and direction)
.) Faster creation of weather files on the server
.) Integration with other add-ons (such as FS Flight Keeper)
.) FS Global Real Weather Network Bridge, which allows you to use FSGRW in a network environment without complicated SimConnect configurations: just one setting and you're done
.) New autostart features that allow more precise control of FSGRWs behaviour in certain cases
Future updates will certainly enhance the simulation of weather by adding more data sources to the weather file generation algorithm and supporting more simulators (i.e. X-Plane). We're listening very closely to what customers say and we're reading and writing in a lot of forums to get ideas for future updates and improvements.
Many thanks Bernd, best of luck to you and your team for the future.
There you go folks, we are truly spoiled for choice. Try the free demo on FSGRW's website and ascertain if this product gives you the results you are after.