On Wednesday 11th January I went to a flight simulation talk and have been meaning to write about it (as it is another future career option for people doing our course, other than going into the games industry). The talk was presented by ex-pilot Ian Strachan and was primarily aimed at Engineering students with good mathematical knowledge; this meant that I didn't really understand a lot of the talk, but if I did know about engineering I think I would have found it quite interesting. I wrote down 4 pages of notes whilst listening to the talk, so I will try and shorten them down a bit to show what I have learnt.
Firstly a flight simulator is a model used for pilot training and virtually simulates flying different types of aircraft in different conditions and situations. For example, one trainee pilot could be flying an army helicopter over Russia in the middle of a snow storm, and another trainee pilot could be bringing hundreds of virtual passengers back home to Japan on a normal sunny day.
Each flight simulator should be as realistic as possible and should simulate the lift, drag, thrust and overall weight of the aircraft and although funds are always in favour of simulators (there has been a lot less accidents since they have been used for training) the amount of features each simulator has varies depending on the budget, one simulator can include any or all of the following:
- Replica crew station
- Image generation system
- Visual Display
- Motion Systems
- Computing (Vehicle model and systems integration)
- Instructor operating system
- Outside communication system (Networks/LAN/WAN)
A lot of flight simulators use 3D panoramic views and very big databases to store all of the information about scenarios. Similar techniques to games are used such as Mipmapping or just changing the level of detail as the aircraft gets closer to an object. This can be seen in a lot of highly detailed, free roaming games such as Skyrim.
For example the mountains and trees in the background are very pale and not very detailed, yet the grass and the
characters in the foreground are very detailed, once you move closer to the mountains in the background they will be as detailed as the things in the foreground. (if that makes any sense!) This technique saves on texture space and creates a more realistic look. I also noted that low poly-counts were used for vehicles, so the similarities between flight simulators and what I am currently learning in my game production lessons are growing.
One of the most interesting parts of the talk was the description of how just the visuals can affect the brain activity of the pilot into thinking that they are actually moving. This was described by just a few simple diagrams, which I personally thought were very descriptive in themselves.
I copied the diagrams to show how the way the the aircraft is flown in the simulator changes how the visuals are displayed, to again make it look a lot more realistic. Tests have shown that from just changing the perspective of the visuals, tricks the brain into slightly feeling the yaw, pitch and roll of the flight.
So from going to the talk I learnt quite a lot about something I didn't really know about before, and made me realise that flight simulators are another option for those with the same skills as in the games industry. Also as fight simulators are selling for over £15000 each, I think it would be a worthy career option or a good side project for game artists!