Saturday, June 21, 2008

WILCO's TowerSim

I had the opportunity of trying out TowerSim, and have to say I was pretty disappointed. I had a longer list of things I didn't like, but here's the major stuff:

  • Graphics are sub par - For today's standards, the graphics are really not very good. Some interesting things, such as shadows that fade into transparency as they get away from the object casting them, and point lights for runways and taxiway lights that do get very small at a distance (unlike the light "gobs" that MSFS has) are good ideas, but the texture resolution, aircraft models, terrain resolution, weather conditions (rain and snow) are not very good.
  • No tower cab - the view from the controller's perspective is simply a point in space, without control panels, monitors, glass or anything else to represent the inside of a tower. It is as if you were floating in space.
  • Aircraft motion - This is a soar point for me. I think part of a realistic and fun Tower Simulator is aircraft moving as they do in the real world. The aircraft I watched tended to fly a precise approach path, without a single foot of variation, hit the runway exactly at the same point, perform no flare whatsoever, and have unrealistic angles of pitch.
  • Controller's interface - The radar scope is very similar to the one I am designing, but the text window that allows the user to control aircraft is cumbersome and slow. It could also have been a bit smarter, such as recognizing "cleared for takeoff runway 9" instead of forcing you to type "cleared for takeoff runway 09".
  • No voice recognition - Controllers don't control via text, they do it via voice. ATCsimulator does a good job at that, so there's no reason these guys couldn't get it right.
  • Robot-like pilot voices - They used about 8 people to record different pilot voices and accents, but the stitching together of words sounds pretty mechanical and unnatural. I have not cracked the nut on this yet, although I have found a couple of expensive text-to-voice engines that can do a great job. I just have to discover how to do it cheaply.
  • Performance issues - I left Chicago O'Hare run without controlling aircraft, and the performance quickly dipped below single-digit frame rates. More and more aircraft showed up, and the simulator had no way of deleting older aircraft, or any other means of stopping it from affecting performance.

All in all, it is not a bad effort, but I expected more. I guess this is good news in the sense that the field is still very much wide open for a good Tower Sim, but I could have been a bit more encouraged by stiffer competition ;).