Airport Simulator on Android

Dont rise your expectation to high on this topic for now. Before jumping into the serious use cases for airport process and environment simulations, as well the gamification of enterprise environments, I will review some simulator apps available on Android and PC in a rather humorous way.

I just love simulators, it is amazing to see how current 3D and physic engines running on today’s powerful and affordable hardware can execute real-time simulations that were only possible in well equipped research labs 2 decades ago. I am experimenting with various 3D engines like Unity and CryEngine, both freely available as personal or educational version or for indie games.

OK, lets have a look at simulators available for the Android mobile platform. If you search for the term simulator you will get thousands of apps, and there is a simulator for almost everything and anything you never heard of before, though the majority is plain crap and only exists because Unity makes it so easy to create a game by clicking-together some assets and adjusting some properties, almost without the need to code. Most of them are just badly made and often only serve the purpose to bombard you with ads once installed or running.

We find 100’s of car, truck, train simulation apps, plus dozens of somewhat strange apps to simulate dogs, cats, dinosaurs, Fishing, Fork Lifts, shark attacks, Miami Crime, swimming trains, flying boats and tuk tuk’s and endless more objects.

Finetuning our search towards the term airport (vehicle) simulator we still reveal dozens of results. Here we have a selection of flying, airport construction and all kind of driving around the airport tasks. The majority is made with Unity engine and the free assets, one reason why most of these apps display the same assets like cars, trucks and planes.

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Selection of simulator apps

Most of them have in common: Well rendered icons and preview images in the play store to catch your interest, generous with requested permissions and truckloads of ads.
Surprisingly all of them have downloads of well beyond 100.000 ! Guess we don’t know the uninstall-rate though, but if you look at the user comments you know.

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Permissions galore inclusive to run as service during startup, snooping accounts and location, downloading files.

Here some actual screenshots of the often weird gameplay or scenery I found.

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Factory Airport ? Not much room to maneuver. Where are taxiways, positions, gates ? But 3 Towers !

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If your are short of pushbacks, go for a regular truck as fallback !

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Personal pickup service for MIB passengers in Area 51 ?

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Taking off from a construction site with speed limits and stop signs. Here the tower also a bit too close to the runway maybe.

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Disembarking Zombie passengers walking down from the service staircase to the waiting Cobus(?)

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Driving a heavy duty tow truck between the planes parked on the grass. Nothing else to do. Maybe one of these defunc airline desert airplane parking grounds ?

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This time we drive an airport security car in a totally static airport. Someone forgot to add tarmac lines here ?

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This plane looks like the airport fire brigade drill setup. But in this app all planes look like this model (front part is mocking a war train from the 1930’s). Not so standard cargo handling either.

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Interesting, floating mobile stairs supported by a RC wreck. Walls at the tarmac ?

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Winter wonderland. Random assets like palms, lamp posts and others stuff thrown at the scene. Big Christmas trees at the end of the runway… Walls again.

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Gives the term Greenfield Airport a more genuine meaning ! Randomly appearing zombie passengers again. Leave the boarding gate through the window ?

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Oh yes, that is a smart way to avoid a potential IP conflict with a famous airline ! Bonus: Floating bridge and you fly with a 1:5 scale plane ?

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Smart parking, what to say ? Smart as in stacking cars on the back of a truck or smart as in placing this thing at the end of the runway ?

Conclusion: Dont expect anything when downloading these simulators, other than uninstalling it again and potentially being spied or bombarded with ads. None of the app I tried even remotely comes close to any real operations. These are games – confirmed – nothing else.

In the next blog entry we will look at Simulator Software available for Windows PC’s.

Stay tuned.

 

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On Simulation and Engines II

My fascination would not end only using simulation software or games with a strong simulation focus, but the idea to produce your own software got my attention already back in the 80’s. At that time the access to decent hardware and software was rather limited and the only viable option was to use a Commodore C64 (anyone older than 35 and with some techy genes should know this little grey-brown box). I cant remember any title with a simulation context other than subLOGIC’s FS II and the only software that would allow the creation of games without coding in Assembler was Garry Kitchen’s GameMaker.

Fast forward to present time (2012): There are dozen’s of graphic, physics and game engines – both commercial and opens source – available, ready for developers to jump into the field. It would be tedious to list them up and compare features, there are some other websites doing this better (please look at devmaster.net). I like to highlight a few engines that I am following for a few years and which (imo) have some impact in the industry.

A major challenge to the simulation and rendering topic is the steep learning curve. Not only you need to excel in programming but understand the concepts of 3D rendering and physics in order to get started. Most engines today are using C++, even with wrapper for other languages available, due to the higher performance you achieve(d) with native C (++) applications compared with Java.

We need to distinguish 3 types of engines here:

  • Physics engine (does nothing but simulating physical systems with rigid body, soft body and fluid dynamics, inclusive of collision handling, without any graphical output)
  • 3D Rendering engine (software framework to visualize 3D content, usually on top of OpenGL or Microsoft DirectX)
  • Game (Simulation) Engine (combining the 2 features above and also offering GUI’s to create content and orchestrate flow and logic)

Continue reading

On Simulation and Engines

I love technical simulations, such as flight or driving simulators, specifically that ones aiming to simulate real physical entities, in contrast to game software where the focus is entertainment and not realistic behavior. Of course, nowadays you cant draw a clear borderline between gaming and simulation  (for the PC market, not the industrial purpose simulator). Amazing to observe the development and evolution of software and underlying physics and graphics rendering engines over the last 30 years, I still remember getting my hands on Microsoft’s first version of the Flight Simulator from 1982 (its version history ended in 2006 with Flight Simulator X).
Due the hardware limitation of that time (typically 4.77 MHz IBM PC, 64K memory, 360K floppy , no harddisk !) the graphics were rather simple, not to say extremely simple, but still it made us being overly excited to use this simulator in the early 80’s. The software focused from the first version to be accurate on flying physics and navigation.

MS flight Simulator 1.0 Screenshot

30 years later we have such high level of graphical and physical rendering quality, that we almost simulate reality as-is. Hardware build in phones surpasses easily the capabilities of hardware of 80’s, you even get simulation software for tablets today.

The above screenshot is from the website  fshistory.simflight.com (the copyright belongs to them) and I ask you to drop by the website setup by Jos Grupping, unfortunately there are no updates since 2007, as well the Wikipedia entry.

Comparing to visual impact of the version X from 2006.

MS Flight Simulator X

On a side note: Microsoft restarted their effort to build a flight simulator with MS Flight, this time targeting the mass market with a more entertaining version. It is FREE to play, but Microsoft decided again to cease development and scrapped the project in July 2012. Download from here. Wikipedia Info.

In this series I will look further into the simulation software and underlying engines for Windows and Linux.