Stairport Sceneries have in January this year unveiled their next big project, SAM GroundService. After years of very limited availability of plugins that would offer animated ground services, it must be apparent that it resulted in remarkable anticipation and discussions within the community.
Hence we approached Stairport Sceneries with some questions on the plugin. Our goal was to give the community a better insight into what the plugin is gonna bring. After all, the initial announcement post was rather brief and did not describe much. For which we don’t reprimand the developers of course.
We discussed with Marten, from Stairport Sceneries, various aspects of what will the addon offer. From compatibility of various addons, development complications the team came across, to various features, expected release timeframe, or probably the most-requested feature – animated passengers.
We furthermore got to know that the addon will not only bring visual enhancements, but will function together with a myriad of aircraft addons to control total baggage weight, fuel quantity, or amount of passengers.
Questions and Answers
All answers mentioned below are directly from Marten, from Stairport Sceneries, with who we were in touch with regards to this article.
Q: In what ways do you think your GroundService will be innovative in contrast with currently available alternatives?
The name of the extension already indicates, that it is not only a visual representation of ground handling vehicles but includes the actual service. That means each vehicle has a specific function like fueling the aircraft, loading baggage etc. and they actually do it!
At least for all compatible aircraft (which are like 90% of all available 3rd party aircraft). Besides that, we have an automatic route generation logic including collision protection for our vehicles. The simulation behind that is quite advanced and includes parts that are being used by autonomous driving cars in the real world (unfortunately including their problems in certain situations).
SAM GroundService is an all-in-one solution for loading and unloading aircraft and obviously blends in well with SAM WorldJetways and supports SimBrief’s import of planned weights.
Q: GSX in Prepar3D recently introduced walk-in gates, do you have any plans for at least featuring animated passengers?
We would love to do so but there is a major technical issue that prevents us from doing that: X-Plane does not support mesh deformation. That’s a method to animate bending faces like clothes of 3D people to make their walk look realistic.
We already tried around with walking animations but the achievable level without mesh deformation is not sufficient for a high-quality addon. We hope to see that at some point in the lifecycle of XP12 though.
Q: You shared some stunning previews on your social networks, but how is the development progressing, and did you come across any simulator limitations or generally speaking, complications?
X-Plane is amazing for 3rd party coders. Technically everything we need is possible, just not from the visualization aspect as described before. Our team is pretty advanced in XP development and I’m very proud of them.
However, it still took us a long time because especially the loading logic is very complex and although we already had a detailed project plan, countless details were added during development.
Q: Will GroundService support all popular aircraft addons? How dependent are you when it comes to cooperation with other aircraft addon developers?
As outlined before we set up each aircraft manually by hand. This is time-consuming work but gives us the best result. SAM always tries to interact with the aircraft so GroundService vehicles can open doors for example. These animations need to be researched and configured for each aircraft.
Some 3rd party aircraft don’t even support animated doors which is a shame, others can be fully accessed from our side. Aircraft authors don’t need to configure SAM GroundService, we’ll do all that. Honestly, I wouldn’t ever write documentation about the workflow as it is very complex. But the result is amazing!
Another note: Some 3rd party aircraft ship certain aspects that we cover like chocks or GPU. We try to integrate them as much as possible. Sometimes we can overwrite their logic, sometimes we just keep them and exclude our corresponding SAM service. Most aircraft will use all services from SAM GroundService but there will be some exceptions.
Q: What exact ground handling services will the expansion offer?
We have 3 different vehicle sets, just like in SAM AirportVehicles: Europe, Northern America and Asia. They all feature:
- Securing Service (Chocks, Cones)
- Ground Power
- Passenger (Stair, Bus)
- Baggage (Loader, Cart)
- Cargo (Loader, Cart)
- Crew Shuttle
Q: You must get this question a lot, but do you have any expected timeframe for the GroundService release or information on the pricing?
We hope to be done by late March/early April. No price tag yet but at least it won’t be a subscription.