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Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

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Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby Icecode GL » Sun Jun 09, 2019 11:43 pm

So on this year's E3 a new Microsoft Flight Simulator has been announced. Here is the trailer for those who want to see it. I was blown away by its graphics, so I wanted to do a small graphics study to analyze what's the current state of the art and how FG can learn from it. I will only be dealing with graphics, since that's what I know about and I have no interest in FDMs or systems. Yes, maybe they suck. Yes, maybe FG is better in almost every other aspect. But I won't be going over those.

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The trailer starts with some sky shots, showing off the atmospheric light scattering and clouds. They finally caught us in this area, which is kind of a shame since one of FG's main "selling" points was ALS. The clouds look amazing (we will be seeing other examples) and they don't look like billboards. Low cloud formations are probably using some kind of volumetric approach, similar to DICE on their Frostbite engine and Horizon Zero Dawn. Higher clouds seem to still be using billboards though.

Image

This is a very interesting screenshot. Here we can see the engine is using PBR and HDR, hence the bloom on the parts of the aircraft that reflect light back to the viewer. The bloom doesn't look too overdone in my opinion, we will be seeing other examples later. This is accomplished by blooming truly over-saturated areas where the contrast range of the camera or eye isn't enough, not the entire framebuffer. Reflections are also quite prominent. It seems they are using Screen Space Reflections, that's why the hangar door stops reflecting on the floor when the aircraft is on top. There is also some depth of field just for the sake of the cinematic trailer.

Image

Again we can see how obvious the HDR is, trying to display a respectably big contrast range. The shadows are very crisp, although they are probably using good old cascaded shadow mapping. Everyone can throw a high end GPU to the game and use 8192x8192 shadow maps. :)

Image

The sun rendering seems to be using a similar (or the same) approach as the Frostbite paper I linked earlier. No lens-flares or overdone camera effects. In fact, there is not even bloom on the sun edges because the sun is very low. This screenshot also kind of confirms that they are using volumetric clouds, as that level of depth in the lighting isn't possible on billboarded clouds. The water reflections are kind of overdone though, I don't think we'd be seeing that level on detail on the reflections in such a large body of water.

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This one is just amazing. The light coming out of the very dense clouds is amazing. The effect is just a natural consequence of using volumetric ray marching for the clouds though.

Image

The streets and urban areas seem to be using baked lights, not dynamic lights. Modern clustered shading techniques like clustered forward rendering and tiled deferred rendering are capable of showing that amount of lights, but since they are static they are probably pre-baked. Again, no overdone bloom and lighting really flows naturally. The clouds' colors are breath-taking.

Image

The grass seems to be instanced billboards, similar to how we do random vegetation in FG. There aren't many other options regarding vegetation rendering nowadays, so it's probably a matter of having the artists and the right textures.

Image

And my favourite shot, it basically sums up all I've said until now.



So, is this possible in FG? Well, we are at a turning point in the real-time graphics industry. We have been slowly turning away from very well-established concepts that have dominated the industry for 20 or 30 years. Things that once were obvious, like defining a material or a light source, have changed dramatically over the last few years as computing power has increased. These are bad news for FG. We have a long history and the iterative nature of FlightGear is what keeps it going. We build brick by brick, standing on the shoulders of they people that contributed before us. The problem is that these building blocks are finally breaking under their own weight and can no longer support the new stuff that's coming on top. There are hundreds of aircrafts in FGAddon - changing the entire material system would break them all. There are thousands of well-developed airports and manually placed buildings, people who took the time to build their home airport click by click. Rewriting the terrain engine would break it all.

We are kind of stuck graphically. We can keep implementing goodies and other fancy effects, but in the end the underlying problem is very hard to fix (I'd say almost impossible). It's still useful to follow the progress being made on the flight sim market, to have a benchmark to compare to. Again, I'm talking about the rendering, not about the 3D models or artist work. The bar for artistic quality is higher and higher every year, which again isn't good for FlightGear as we don't have the numbers to compete. But that's another problem of its own...

It also doesn't help that even the low level rendering tools are changing to adapt to the changes. Modern APIs like DirectX 11 and Vulkan have a completely different workflow compared to legacy APIs like OpenGL and DirectX <10. And it's even less helpful that hardware manufacturers (ahem, Apple) are dropping support for these APIs.

I have no idea how we will get over this bump in the road, but I'm optimistic about it. Open-source (usually) finds its way when enough people are interested. Let's see how it all turns out.
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby www2 » Mon Jun 10, 2019 2:07 am

Some Ideas that i have for the graphic roadmap
1. Add PBR support
2. move from OpenGL to Vulkan
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby V12 » Mon Jun 10, 2019 5:26 am

Icecode GL wrote in Sun Jun 09, 2019 11:43 pm:There are hundreds of aircrafts in FGAddon - changing the entire material system would break them all.

...but almost none completed on 100%

There is another and probably bigger problem - scenery textures. Best procedural texturing is still not good as photoreal one. Scenery will be still too "vectory look" with sharp landclass borders and othet antieyecandy things. But how legally obtain photoreal imaginery into OpenSource ?
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby Thorsten » Mon Jun 10, 2019 6:07 am

So on this year's E3 a new Microsoft Flight Simulator has been announced.


I remember that happened a few years ago as well - it got even as far as a demo version - and was abandoned a bit later. We shall see...

2. move from OpenGL to Vulkan


There's no shortage of ideas, but there is a shortage of manpower. Realistically, OpenSouce handles gradual evolution much better than discrete jumps.

So this kind of needs a small group of highly motivated individuals coming new into the fray if you ask me.

Edit: Let me add a warning about wrong expectations:

~80% of the visual difference which makes the 'wow' is not the rendering pipeline - it's the artwork. You'll find that if you render a 15 year old lowres terrain texture with HDR and Vulcan and cascaded shadow mapping, it still looks prety much like a 15 year old lowres texture.

The current situation is that within the existing framework, FG could look much better if we had

* better and higher resolution textures
* higher resolution terrain mesh
* more and better 3d models
* more and better regionalized vegetation models

and

* more regional materials definitions
* more procedural overlay definitions

So we already have a very compelling toolkit, but it's largely not used and not supplemented with artwork.

In this situation, it is unlikely that expanding the toolkit further or replacing it by a new toolkit will deliver the hoped-for result - it does not address the bottleneck in graphis.

Microsoft has an art department, people who can buy textures, design textures,... we do not have anyone who volunteers to even do fairly simple tasks like acquire new terrain or vegetation textures (seriously - does anyone want to check when the last new terrain texture was added and how many people add terrain textures at all?)

It would be good for the community to eventually realize that simple fact.
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby StuartC » Mon Jun 10, 2019 8:54 am

The new MS FS has one big obvious thorn sticking out. Xbox logo.
To me this signifies it will be like all Console ported - to -pc software. It will be impossible to develop for without what is likely to be a pay/regular licenced SDK which will remove all chances of any freeware. Any additional "Content" will be pay ware, and probably not cheap ether. This fits with the "DLC" content model of console based games. Eliminate the chance for free development and force you to buy anything above the basic off the shelf package.
Should we worry about the new MS FS, nope, as the type of person who will buy it is already the type of person who thinks nothing of spending thousands on eye candy addons already.
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby V12 » Mon Jun 10, 2019 9:24 am

Thorsten :
How You want make smooth transition between 2 regions with its own materials for identical landclass with existing solution ?
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby legoboyvdlp » Mon Jun 10, 2019 9:57 am

StuartC wrote in Mon Jun 10, 2019 8:54 am:The new MS FS has one big obvious thorn sticking out. Xbox logo.
To me this signifies it will be like all Console ported - to -pc software.


Well - lets just hope there's no in-app purchases....
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby Icecode GL » Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:03 am

~80% of the visual difference which makes the 'wow' is not the rendering pipeline - it's the artwork.


I've said twice in the OP that I'd be limiting to talking about the core rendering part of both this sim and FG. I'm interested in the challenges we will be facing in the near future as the standard evolves, which is kind of an unprecedented issue in this project.
Last edited by Icecode GL on Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby Thorsten » Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:04 am

How You want make smooth transition between 2 regions with its own materials for identical landclass with existing solution ?


I have a tested and working solution for nextgen terrain, so this is a solved problem - we just don't have much nextgen terrain.

However, the need to do so is drastically reduced with more data resolution, so I don't actually see this as a priority goal - if we had nextgen scenery today in which we can do smooth transitions but the same landclass resolution, the scenery would look just as chunky as it does today in SRTM areas.

If you have an orchestra in which nobody can play a straight tune on the violine, the situation isn't improved by giving everyone a Stradivarius, nor by moving into a fancy concert hall. First everyone needs to learn to play the instrument, then you can optimize the fine-tuning.

Good terrain needs a basis in terms of data and artwork - that's what we have to worry about, because what we have was good 10 years ago and then most people started to believe in the magic rendering fix rather than in community work - once we have the basics, we can talk about fine-tuning, but fine-tuning is a waste of time without data and artwork.
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby sidi762 » Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:14 am

StuartC wrote in Mon Jun 10, 2019 8:54 am:The new MS FS has one big obvious thorn sticking out. Xbox logo.
To me this signifies it will be like all Console ported - to -pc software. It will be impossible to develop for without what is likely to be a pay/regular licensed SDK which will remove all chances of any freeware. Any additional "Content" will be payware, and probably not cheap either. This fits with the "DLC" content model of console based games. Eliminate the chance for free development and force you to buy anything above the basic off the shelf package.
Should we worry about the new MS FS, nope, as the type of person who will buy it is already the type of person who thinks nothing of spending thousands on eye candy add-ons already.


I think all of this is not about to worry about the new MSFS, this is about how to improve ourselves, not to be eliminated or obsolete as technology continues to be developed.
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby Thorsten » Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:26 am

The problem is that these building blocks are finally breaking under their own weight and can no longer support the new stuff that's coming on top. (...)
We are kind of stuck graphically. We can keep implementing goodies and other fancy effects, but in the end the underlying problem is very hard to fix (I'd say almost impossible). It's still useful to follow the progress being made on the flight sim market, to have a benchmark to compare to. The bar for artistic quality is higher and higher every year, which again isn't good for FlightGear as we don't have the numbers to compete.


I believe the extent of the 'problem' is up to interpretation (I find the statement rather alarmistic...)

Do we actually want to compete with Micro$oft and a commercial addon economy on their own terms? Basically no - it's silly to even try. We have nowhere near the resources.

What new stuff is coming on top which needs to be supported? Only what people want to implement, so there's nothing ahead which we 'must implement' but really can not.

What is the underlying problem? Manpower and resources when compared to Micro$oft. Yes, we can't fix that - another question is, can Micro$oft? Is there still a market for Flightsims as they need it? FSWeekend shows simmers getting pretty old...

Can FG do another leap forward? Sure - if new enthusiastic people gather. To give an order of magnitude, to create something like AW requires a commitment of ~20 hours of work a week for a year or two. That's coming home from a day job, taking a break and starting to code FG. For me this was okay when I started, I was a postdoc, recently moved into a foreign country, not much else to do - at this stage of your life, you can do these things. These days, like many other developers, I have kids and plenty of other things to attend to. So I think it's a safe prediction that the developers of the last 10 years won't again pour in that kind of time and effort.

And if not? Then we'll just have a flightsim that's not up to industrial standards (but still good, and with other benefits) and people will have to live with it. :D
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby Icecode GL » Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:46 am

Thorsten wrote in Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:26 am:What is the underlying problem? Manpower and resources when compared to Micro$oft. Yes, we can't fix that - another question is, can Micro$oft? Is there still a market for Flightsims as they need it? FSWeekend shows simmers getting pretty old...


I've been trying to show that the problem is not the lack of resources or man-power, but core obsolescence. The tools we built FG with are being phased out and all new progress still depends on them. Maybe you have played Jenga - that's how I imagine this whole thing. Throwing man hours won't fix that if you remove a bottom block, the top falls off.

Thorsten wrote in Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:26 am:And if not? Then we'll just have a flightsim that's not up to industrial standards (but still good, and with other benefits) and people will have to live with it. :D


Of course, I don't think anyone would debate you that. But no one wants to contribute to a project that doesn't even have the potential to be good. Or would you have contributed to FG if you hadn't had the tools to contribute? How would you have implemented local weather if Nasal or the OSG port hadn't happened? What about ALS without the Effects framework? If someone comes to the project 5 years from now saying they are interested in implementing a fancy new industry-standard algorithm, they will probably be told that it's not possible because we simply don't have the infrastructure and the tools for them. Compare that to 5 years ago when someone who doesn't even know programming could implement an Effect, being one or two steps above state of the art rendering engines of the time.
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby legoboyvdlp » Mon Jun 10, 2019 11:03 am

Image

It appears they are using autogen buildings (Microsoft owns bing, so I imagine the bing map 3D autogen buildings?) for texturing and 3D?

Obviously we can't use that data, but with OSM and good texturing we can get pretty close.
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby V12 » Mon Jun 10, 2019 11:18 am

Icecode GL wrote in Mon Jun 10, 2019 10:46 am:...but core obsolescence

Result of core obsolence is poor performance on new machines with 8 and more cores CPUs and modern GPUs.
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Re: Microsoft Flight Simulator, a small graphics study

Postby www2 » Mon Jun 10, 2019 12:25 pm

Thorsten wrote in Mon Jun 10, 2019 6:07 am:

There's no shortage of ideas, but there is a shortage of manpower. Realistically, OpenSouce handles gradual evolution much better than discrete jumps.


The key word is roadmap..
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