This is a
series-in-progress that's designed to take the player from the
inception of man's understanding of flight (bird flight, see above)
invention of powered flight. The goal is to lead students through the
same types of cognitive leaps that we had, as a society, in our
understanding of the physical world as we moved into the air.
Right now, this series is only a prototype, and it's only a prototype
for the very first stage of that goal - learning about the very basics
of flight using the model of "bird flight." There are a couple of
challenges inherent in this design goal, at least as it related to FSX.
The first is that, obviously, the game is built around simulating
airplanes, not birds. This is largely an on-the-surface challenge,
though, because we're still dealing with the physics of a moving body
through the air, and since we're talking about introducing big-picture
concepts, I can fudge the numbers a little anyway.
to get a "bird" into a flight simulator, I started with a target -
gliders. Gliders seemed, to
me, to be the closest approximation to
soaring birds (like the albatross, used here). All in all,
I could have
done a straight remodel of a glider but for one wrinkle - it was
requested that the birds be able to move under power.
"power" part isn't hard - I just had to give the bird an engine. I
did have to make some changes in the animation department, though,
because FSX's engine animations really only support binary states (on
or off). What I did instead was make a script that was baked into
animation file for the bird that rotated between a series of animation
playback speeds based on throttle percentage. It wasn't a perfect
solution (some better blending between
states could certainly still be
done), but it worked for its purpose.
second design challenge was in conveying some of these more
abstract physical concepts (like types of energy) into visible elements
that the player could learn and extrapolate from. One of the big ones
was understanding kinetic and potential energy.
Kinetic energy is fairly straightforward - it's pretty much a 1:1
translation from the speed of
the body. Potential was trickier, but as
many of these school-based designs have done,
what it really took was
stepping back into my early physics classes. I decided that fuel
I now had, thanks to the "engine" my bird had) and altitude (given the
presence of gravity) were good enough to represent the possible forces
that could act on the body.
Having nailed it down to those two, I could
then easily represent those as a combination of
two vectors (although
in the end, I did end up splitting them back up into two separate