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1.17 Development


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Spherical buffer = Perf upgrade nr 2

This update is basically another performance update. This was one of the 5 performance paths we had in the 1.14 update plans. We did not implement it then since it will take us at least a month to implement and test if it even works in the X-Plane environment. We decided to add it later so we wouldn't delay 1.14 longer than necessary. Fingers crossed that we're not in a dead end. The reward will be great if it works and so far it looks promising!

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First ever image of Spherical Buffer in X-Plane. And in any sim as far as I am aware.. Don't quote me on this 😄
Yep - Minecraft comes to mind. It's the tech that counts at this point.


With the Spherical Buffer we hope to be able to get to the point where we can start adding more features like thunderstorms, multi screen support and VR. If you wonder what Spherical buffer is - read up on space observation tech. How we implement it and parts of it's functions are trade secret at this point 😉

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With a bit of tweaking we're back to more familiar clouds. But with some huge tricks up their sleaves I seriously hope we can exploit. Crossing fingers and toes that this will turn out well in the end. We just won't know until we add back all features in the next test runs.

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Let me explain in short what happened in the past updates:

1.14

  • Major performance update
  • Additional functions and features as a result of a complete rewrite of the core
  • This was the incredibly long update that took a year to finish... 

1.15 

  • Vulkan update (11.50 compatible)
  • Dynamic seasons only available in OpenGL since the needed access is not available in Vulkan.

1.16

  • X-Plane 11.51 hotfix (X-Plane 11.51 and above)
  • Not compatible with earlier versions of X-Plane (in Vulkan)

 

A comment on dynamic seasons
I see that there is confusion about dynamic seasons. And as much as we want dynamic seasons ourselves, it has never been a part of our feature list. It is an experimental feature because we could add it in our pipeline and get it to work. In OpenGL. We will try to convince Laminar that X-Plane needs dynamic seasons and MAYBE we will get the access needed to actually execute that feature without the flaws it suffers under in its current state in OpenGL. So far we have had a closed door but we will continue the talk. (We have a poll running in the facebook group where you can add your vote for our seasons - so maybe Laminar will see the community whish for such a feature.) You can also address this to Laminar directly. Any pressure from the community will help us in getting the access we need.

But I repeat: dynamic seasons has never and will never be promised as a feature in xEnviro. And we are running two pipelines of development currently to keep your whishes for this feature active in OpenGL. How long we can keep this up is a huge question mark though.

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hello world

1.17 task #1: Spherical buffer - ongoing

Status: 1.17.t30

  • Spherical buffer initial proof of concept test - done
  • Spherical buffer core code conversion (t01 - t28) - done
  • Spherical buffer pipeline initiated (t29 - txx) - done
  • Spherical buffer adjustments and adaptation - ongoing
  • Spherical buffer evaluation - ongoing
  • 1.17.txx test team push - imminent
  • 1.17.bxx test team push - not started

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(Image by beta test team member xE 1.16)

I have been pretty silent lately, so far this year in fact, and I apologize for that. In a sense I am eating my own words at the moment. "...but we are trying to get away from the huge gaps between releases."  1.15 was released 25th of december. 1.16 was the Vulkan hotfix and... Yeah. Time flies. But there has been a lot that has demanded the teams attention in real life both in regards of our day jobs and privately. So progression on the new update has been slow. Since we have some new users asking about the known issues we listed in 1.15 I'll repeat them here. Several of these will probably be solved by the spherical buffer conversion and if they persist we will have room for improvement in later updates. 

So here's the list of known issues

  • Precipitation follows camera
  • Snow coverage may appear in the regions where no snowfall encountered recently
  • Default X-Plane night triggers lights artifacts
  • Cloud edge artifacts
  • In cloud artifacts
  • Cirrus clouds may affect colorization of clouds beneath
  • Low level clouds may be combined

You can find an updated list at xenviro.net

To add to the silence, there has not been anything interesting to show visually at this stage of 1.17 development. xEnviro has been in peaces again. 1.17 has just left pre' Alpha state which is just pure code. We are currently done with the code conversion and are now adapting all of xE code to the new tech. We are constantly evaluating if this is a sensible direction to take.

If you are wondering what spherical buffer is, you're not alone. 🙂 I won't disclose what spherical buffer is other than that it's nothing new. But as far as we know this has not been done before in this application, let a lone in X-Plane. So we're treading unknown grounds again but we're taking this risk because the benefits are huge if we pull it off. Treading new ground is nothing new. We were the first to go public with volumetric clouds in flightsim scale. We think that was the only sensible choice at the time and one of the best decisions we have ever made albeit controversial and demanding. 

As per usual I do not give any ETA's for the release but we have made progress and this is just an update to tell you all that we're still alive and working on 1.17.

 

 

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  • 5 months later...

Alright,

let me first say that I am sorry for not updating all of you for a while. I haven't had the time for it first of all and second: I don't believe in vacuum hyping. Which means hyping something for sales alone when you can't back it up. But I see that several people question if we're even alive - or if xEnviro is in a dead end. So here is an update to lay that ball dead. Some won't accept any form of "excuse" what so ever and will always demand an update to xEnviro regardless. Let me just start with answering those with the fact that you bought the version you got at purchase. Not a certain update cycle.

With that said:

We're still developing. It has taken a looong time and I am aware that this has been the case for several of the major updates so far. Development has been slow because of several factors. First of all we have day jobs that have demanded a huge chunk of our lives. Ever since Covid started several of us in the dev-team have what is called critical professions that are under high pressure and have been for a long time. Apart from that we have private lives that also demand it's time and in periods have made it impossible to concentrate on other things. xEnviro is developed by a small team and we're vulnerable to halts.

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Image from 1.17t43

So where is development per today?

Spherical buffer is a complex transition and a new tech developed by us within noise rendered volumetrics. It will give huge benefits both in performance potential and visually. How much will remain to be seen. At launch of 1.17 clouds will probably not look very different than 1.16 (apart from artifacts fixes and performance). But xE will rest on a structure that we hope will give it a huge advantage going forward. This is the 5th performance path that has been mentioned in the past. Also in XP12 when that launches. But about that...

We're still waiting for some clear answers from Laminar in regards to if we get the needed tools to continue developing weather at this level in xp12. We know that xp12 most probably will get volumetric clouds but the tools have been very limited so far and this might be even worse in xp12. xE has always been independent of Xplane to a large extent and that will be our savior also this time around. We'll see if laminar wants to have 3rd party weather addons in the future but if not; we'll manage to brute ourselves in. As we have done for the entire xE life so far anyway.

Anyway, sorry for not having updated you and that this update is not of a "here's what we got" or with images of 1.17. We don't have that much to show anyway since the work is on the back end. 1.17 is over 90% done. But the remaining 10% doesn't translate in to time. I won't promise you an update soon either. I am currently stealing time from my day job to write this and I have to get back to that now. But if we have any news worth mentioning I will update asap.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

1.17t57 

Before I start

let me just say that we will not stop development with the release of XP12. We firmly believe that we will still be relevant in X-Planes future. The teaser shots released from Laminar proved that to us. I had a whole rant laid up after a discussion with Andrey about the screenshots Laminar presented. But I quickly scrapped that rant since it basically would be a long educational text on how light behaves in the real world and why the lighting model Laminar has chosen is completely unrealistic. XPlane12 still doesn't have atmospheric calculations for light scattering. Everything is coming from palettes. Photometric means "something metered". Metered in advance and represented as a statistical table. And Laminar's choice of the light source having a set color is just 🤦‍♂️..
This is why XPlane12 still won't have realistic lighting and will be dependent on addons to get sky colors and general light behavior right.

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XP12 released teaser image
 

Where are we?

Here: 

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Spherical forward buffer is done. It's finally done! And it works!

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First images in the new true full volume rendered environment based on spherical buffer. (1.17t57)
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Not in any way representative of final result! A lot of the 1.16 code is obsolete and needs to be cleaned out. 

Spherical buffer has never been used before in this application and is a tech we are proud of pioneering in the industry. We were the very first with volumetric clouds in a major sim. And we are first out with this tech as well which we hope will open up some possibilities in X-Plane with all kinds of cloud formations and wanted features. We have good results. As it looks now we will have some possibilities I am reluctant to publish.

This is a whish list based on what we have seen - some items might be blocked later depending on the path we choose (And Laminar's access in XP12) but we're hopeful that all will be doable with time.

  • General performance increase for all resolutions
  • True full volume rendering. (this is already done and gives us a huge advantage)
  • Unlimited cloud layers
    • Mixed cloud layers
    • Unlimited formations
    • Thunderstorms
  • Cloud on cloud - and self shadowing
  • High performance on high resolution clouds
  • Wake vortex turbulence effects
  • VR compatibility

Not all of this will be in 1.17 but the road to get to the items above is so much shorter now. And we won't add to the current future feature list now but we're dreaming of some possibilities now that we knew could be done before but with huge compromises we might not have any more. We're already at a 10-20% performance increase from 1.16 and we haven't even started optimizing the code. Where we end up is not a set figure. We'll see. 

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We currently have 14 items left on our agenda. This can change if any of them gives us problems. But as it looks now we should have a set item list to finish. Light is observed at the end of the tunnel
😃 Back to work!

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