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)
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.