X-Plane 8 Scenery Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to command questions about the scenery system. If you don't find the answer you are looking for, please email me at bsupnik at xsquawkbox.net.


New Capabilties



General Scenery Development


When is the global scenery coming out?

We are hoping to release the global scenery this fall; sooner if possible. Global scenery is our highest priority.

Who is working on the global scenery?

Sergio Santagada is working on the artwork with Cristiano Maggi and Massimo Durando. Austin Meyer and Ben Supnik are working on the programming. There are also a lot of other people who are helping out with scenery in various ways; we appreciate their help a lot!

Will the global scenery look like the previews?

Possibly not. These previews represent various tests that the art team has done to evaluate various global scenery generation and texturing techniques. But the final product may not look as good. We need to keep the global scenery simple so that it will fit on a few DVDs. We also need to limit the number and size of the textures we use and the number of triangles so that all computers can run X-Plane 8 with global scenery.

Please consider these pictures to be previews of what X-Plane can look like, not a guarantee of what the global scenery will look like. (Also see below.)

Will all parts of the global scenery look equally good?

No; there will be roughly three levels of quality in the scenery. The continental US is most detailed due to SRTM data and detailed road maps. The entire world from 54 degrees south to 60 degrees north is somewhat detailed, thanks to SRTM data, but the roads are not as detailed. Parts of the world not covered by the SRTM data (where the SRTM data is corrupted) will be very inaccurate due to a lack of high quality elevation data and high quality vectors.

Also the accuracy of the data we use varies; sometimes it is very good and sometimes there are errors. So you may get lucky and find your home town looks perfect, or you may find huge errors. While we try to make the global scenery as good as we can, we cannot go through the entire world and hand-correct errors. It will be possible to use our tools to make custom scenery that represents small areas with a high degree of accuracy and detail.

What is a DSF file?

DSF stands for Distribution Scenery File format. DSF is the file format for the new X-Plane 8 native scenery. ENV is the file format for version 7 and older scenery. X-Plane 8 shipped with new DSF files for the United States and ENV files for the whole world. The new global scenery will be entirely DSF format when it is finished.

Will the US DSF files be recut when the global scenery is released?

Yes. The global scenery features significant technology improvements over the original US DSFs. So we will provide new US DSFs that feature some of the improvements.

Where can I get more information or basic instructions on using X-Plane?

Andy Goldstein maintains the X-Plane FAQ; it has a lot of great info on scenery and X-Plane.

New Capabilties

What is the resolution of the new terrain mesh in version 8?

The terrain mesh in version 8 can be variable resolution; there may be more mesh points in some areas and less in others. There is no upper limit on the resolution for the mesh. The default scenery is created from 90 meter DEMs and usually has a maximum density of 90 meters. The default scenery usually has approximately 100,000 triangles per square degree, but this does vary.

Does the new scenery system support custom objects?

Yes, absolutely! You might almost say that the new scenery system only supports custom objects. In X-Plane 8 there are no objects built into X-Plane; every object comes from a .OBJ file somewhere. Objects can either be in a library or directly in a custom scenery package. The default scenery uses only objects from libraries, but a DSF file can use objects from its own scenery package as well. You can have hundreds of thousands of objects hand-placed in a DSF file.

Can the new scenery system create photorealistic scenery?

Yes. While the new default scenery is not photorealistic (it is based on classes of land, road networks, and individually placed objects for buildings), it is possible to use aerial or satelite photographs to make version 8 scenery.

What happened to AutoGen? Is Autogen coming back?

The new scenery system does not support auto-gen as we know it from X-Plane 7. In X-Plane 8, objects that correspond to a given terrain type (apartments or shops in a city, farm houses on a field, etc.) are each individually placed in the DSF files by the scenery-generator tool. This allows objects to be placed using a very complex algorithm that would be too slow to run inside X-Plane while flying. So objects cannot be placed automatically based on terrain. For this reason, you will not see autogen objects in V7 scenery. (However, X-Plane can place objects along vector roads - powerline towers are placed this way. This is sort of like autogen.)

Why are there no cars on the road?

X-Plane 8 features a near-total rewrite of the scenery engine from version 7. So certain X-Plane 7 features from the X-Plane 7 rendering code are now missing. They will be back! But we want to get the global scenery and scenery editing tools out before we put these details back. When cars come back, they'll be visible for both DSF and ENV scenery.

Why does X-Plane 8 load scenery so slowly?

X-Plane 8's scenery engine is brand new; we have not had very much time to performance tune and optimize scenery loading. Once the global scenery is done, we will be tuning the code. X-Plane 8 should eventually exceed the load times of X-Plane 7; performance improvements will be availabine in the form of free X-Plane 8 point releases.


Can X-Plane 8 read version 7 scenery?

Yes. X-Plane 8 will load X-Plane 7 custom scenery packages without any modification. Scenery packages that require modifying the Resources folder may not work without modification. However, X-Plane 8 does not support autogen, so version 7 scenery will look sparse in version 8.

Where are the taxiway lines in my custom scenery?

X-Plane 8 now supports ENV taxiway lines, as of version 815; upgrade to the latest X-Plane 8 to see them. However, our future plan is to have taxiway lines in the apt.dat file, not ENV files.

What happened to the vector rivers in my custom scenery?

X-Plane 7 featured rivers as textured line segments; the X-Plane 8 rendering engine draws all water, no matter how narrow, as full polygonal waterbodies. The upside of this decision is that a seaplane can correctly land on anything that looks wet in X-Plane 8. The downside is that we cannot draw X-Plane 7 vector rivers in X-Plane 8.

What happened to the buildings in my ENV files?

Because X-Plane 8 does not support auto-gen, you will not see many of the auto-gen buildings when flying over ENV scenery in X-Plane 8. This is probably not something we will be able to change in X-Plane 8.


Why can't I edit scenery with WorldMaker?

WorldMaker's scenery editing capabilities were implemented on top of the version 7 X-Plane scenery engine. When we totally rewrote the engine for version 8, we had to remove WorldMaker's scenery editing capabilities.

To edit X-Plane 7 scenery, use WorldMaker from X-Plane 7.63 (available for free download). You can use WorldMaker 8 to edit airport and nav data. The new scenery editor will be a separate program from WorldMaker.

When will the scenery editing tools be available?

We will release the scenery tools after the global scenery is done and as soon as the user interface is refined enough for general use. Everyone will get access to the scenery tools at the same time - when we release them, we release them publicly. Following the xplane-news Yahoo group for release announcements.

What platforms will the new tools run on?

All new scenery editing tools will run on Macintosh and Windows. Betas may come out first for one platform and then the other. Because the tools will be open source, a port to Linux is possible but not planned at this time.

Will there be a user interface for the new tools?

Yes. All of the new tools will feature both a graphical user interface, and where appropriate a command-line version for advanced users. In some cases the command line tool may be available first, since command line tools are quicker to code.

General Scenery Development

What is Photo-Realistic Scenery?

Photo-Realistic scenery is scenery based primarily on high resolution aerial or satelite photographs. Essentially you are flying over a picture of what the area looks like in real life.

Probably the greatest strength of photorealistic scenery is that while in flight, it looks almost exactly like what you see out the window of a real aircraft. However, it has some limitations too: because it is based on photographs, shadows do not change with the time of day, season, or weather, and when you fly low to the ground, it becomes clear that you are not flying over real buildings, but pictures of buildings.

Photo-realistic add-ons are avilable for X-Plane, however the global scenery will not be done using this technique. Our main two reasons are: there is not a good source for global high resolution photos that we could use, and also the scenery (at 16 meters per pixel) would potentially take up 2340 GB - that's 260 DVDs.

It will be possible to make photo-realistic scenery with our new scenery tools. It is also possible to combine photorealistic scenery with other scenery techniques. (For example, you can use land classes where photos are not available, and place buildings over their images in the scenery for a 3-d look in cities.)

What is Land Class scenery?

Landclass scenery is scenery based on catagories of land. The world is broken down into areas with catagories such as forests, cities, farms, etc. and then the terrain is textured based on these catagories.

Landclass scenery can cover a large area with only a few image files (one for each land class), but a large area of a single land class can look repetitive (for example an area of repeating farms). More textures can be used to hide the repetitions.

The global scenery is to some extent land-class scenery.

What is Auto-Gen?

Auto-gen is a process whereby a flight simulator draws 3-d objects (buildings, trees, houses, etc.) while you fly based on the terrain you are flying over. X-Plane 6 and 7 used auto-gen to populate urban areas with houses and buildings, and forests with trees.

The power of auto-gen is that it allows the sim to draw a lot of objects without having to store information about those objects in the scenery files. The rules for placing the auto-gen objects can be improved without rebuilding the scenery, and the user can control how many objects are drawn by the sim to improve framerate or appearance.

X-Plane 8 does not use auto-gen; in X-Plane 8 all objects must be placed in a DSF file ahead of time. The program that builds the DSF files can place objects using hundreds of gigabytes of data that X-Plane does not have access to, and algorithms that take weeks to run. However once the objects are placed, they are positioned permanently and cannot be changed without rebuilding the scenery files.

What is the SRTM?

SRTM is the Space Shuttle Radar-Topography Mission, a joint project between NASA and the NGA to collect high quality global elevation data. The SRTM is one of the best free, public domain sources of elevation data available right now. SRTM data has a resolution of 90 meters worldwide and 30 meters in the US. The SRTM data covers a latitude band from 54S to 60N.

Is the X-Plane 7 scenery based on SRTM data?

No. The SRTM data was not available when we did the X-Plane 7 global scenery. (Actually, this scenery was built for X-Plane 6.) You can get third party global scenery for X-Plane 7 in ENV format from xpsrtm.com.

Is the X-Plane 8 scenery based on SRTM data?

The original US DSFs are not based on SRTM data; they are based on 90 meter NED data. The global scenery will be based on SRTM where available, and less precise data for the northern and southern areas that were not covered by the SRTM.