Dec 222017
A text file giving some good pointers on designing scenery for Flight Simulator IV.
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A text file giving some good pointers on designing scenery for Flight Simulator IV.
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Contents of the DESIGN.TXT file

ASD Scenery Design Methods

Mike Barrs

(* Note - use word wrap to view this file)

I learned a lot designing my first ASD scenery project and thought I'd write some of it down for anyone who needs a little help getting started, or who might be able to use some of the ideas I've worked out for ASD objects. I've also included information learned from messages on the Compuserve GAMERS Forum/Flight Sim section, and I thank everyone there for sharing their ideas and experiences. These methods are aimed at modeling real world scenery as accurately as possible, but there is some information under the DESIGN TIPS heading below that would also apply to fantasy scenery. You may also want to skip ahead to that section if you've already figured out how to place scenery accurately.


The first thing to decide is whether or not your scenery needs to tie in with the existing FS navaids for instrument navigation. Scenery with new or modified airports and VOR's near existing FS VOR's obviously falls into this category. You also need to decide if you'll be using one of the scenery disks as a background for your ASD scenery. In general I would recommend using the scenery disk if there is one for your area, since you can use the navaids in the SD scenery for triangulation, and you'll probably have a better frame rate if you incorporate existing SD features than if you did everything from scratch with ASD.

If you're doing a realistic rendition of a remote area you can use lat/long position read off the map, and fantasy scenery can either be placed in blank areas of the default FS scenery like northern Canada or Mexico, or you can build a big polygon island out in the ocean. It's hard to get a polygon big enough that you don't see water around the edges even at low altitude, so if you don't want it to look like an island, use northern Canada or one of the other blank areas.


You'll need to work from several different types of charts and maps, depending on what you're trying to model. An essential tool for locating objects accurately using FS navaids is the area sectional chart. If there's a Terminal Area chart for your area, it's even more useful since it shows various landmarks used as visual checkpoints, and has a larger scale.

If you're adding an airport, get the IAP (Instrument Approach Procedures) book for your area. It's a $2 booklet published by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce which shows ILS approaches to each runway, runway lighting, size, and elevation. The larger airports in the IAP book have diagrams showing the main buildings, control tower, and taxiways. The airport diagram in the IAP book is valuable, but not as good as a topo map for placing buildings since the scale is variable and unspecified. The IAP and sectional charts can be found in aviation bookstores and pilot supply stores. If you can't find them locally try ordering from Sporty's Pilot Shop (1-800-543-8633) Clermont County Airport, Batavia, OH 45103.

Once your reference points are established, the best tool for detail work is a set of 7.5 minute series USCGS topo maps, which can be found in map stores, geologic supply houses, and some sporting goods stores. They run about $5 per sheet and cover an 8x8 mile area at a scale of 1:24000.

Supplemental references would be road maps, surveys, and marine charts for coastal areas. It might be worth a trip to the library and local bookstores to see what's available in the way of picture books covering the area. I found a book called "Above Miami" for my first ASD project that was extremely valuable since it's a coffee table book of recently made low altitude airphotos. I could slew to match the view seen in the picture to see how closely my ASD objects matched the real thing.

You'll need a drawing compass, the kind with reversible pencil/sharp point tips, and a ruler. A large circular protractor with degree markings is useful but not essential. A calculator is good for determining building dimensions from measurements made on the topo map.

If you're not familiar with the slew controls in FS, take a minute to brush up on the keys and joystick or mouse controls. Don't forget you can slew up in altitude to get a larger overall view when designing scenery, from either the overhead or perspective views.


If you're building an airport that will have an ILS approach, the radius of your scenery boundary will need to extend at least 35 miles from the end of the ILS runway. Scenery with new VOR's should take into account the 75 mile radius of VOR's in FS. For this reason I'd recommend making the airport beacon the center point of your scenery. If you're not adding new navaids like this you can create smaller .SC1 files with slightly overlapping boundaries that will load in and out, if auto-loading of ASD scenery is turned on.

I found that it helps to work in modules, with one overall file including a major airport, and several temporary .SC1 files for additions and experiments. For example I used several .SC1 files for different versions of stadiums until I got one I liked, then I erased the losers and merged the final version into the main file. You could conceivably keep a library of small .SC1 design modules to use as a reference on future projects, with things like power plants, stadiums, ships, and so on. You can't copy multiple ASD objects from one .SC1 file to another (yet), but you can write down the specs, and recreate the object in a new .SC1 file.


A reference point gives you an anchor that you can measure out from using topo maps and grids when designing scenery. Triangulation from an existing FS navaid is usually more accurate in relation to scenery disks than using latitude and longitude, but there may be no nearby VOR's in the area you're working on, in which case use ASD lat/long position to set up a reference point as follows.

Find a feature on the map you're using that will serve as a central reference point, and read off its lat/long coordinates against the scale on the edges and write it down. Then go to the ASD design preferences menu, set coordinates to lat/long, and type in the coordinates. This places the design cursor at that position. Then switch coordinates back to the FS system, write down the FS coordinates, exit to your plane, and enter slew mode. Use menu #5 Set Position to type in the FS coordinates corresponding to your lat/long reference point. This places you over the reference point. Hit pause and skip ahead to the PLACING THE REFERENCE POINT heading below.


This is the "preferred" method if there are VOR's nearby. Look at the area sectional or Terminal Area chart and find something that will work as a reference point. It should be something that is shown on both the sectional and the topo map. For airports the beacons shown as a small star on the chart are a good choice, other reference points might be road intersections, visual checkpoint landmarks, or coastline features.

Using slew mode, triangulate a fix from 2 VOR's and pause at the triangulated position. For a step by step example of how to triangulate if you're not familiar with using FS navaids, see the Appendix below.

You may want to fudge the position a little to avoid major conflicts with existing SD coastlines or highways. On my airport I did two fixes from 3 VOR's. The two positions were 3500 feet apart, so I moved to a point halfway between them, zoomed out on the cockpit map to see where I was in relation to the scenery disk, and then fudged the position about 300 feet to the south so I wouldn't have to redo the surrounding roads. If you're placing a new VOR here you want it to be accurately placed, so it's better to do just one triangulation from the 2 nearby VOR's that will most likely be used in connection with the new one for navigation.


OK, using either triangulation or lat/long coordinates, your plane is positioned over the reference point. Now create a new scenery file on the ASD scenery library menu - your reference point will be the center. Use ASD to drop a temporary tower to mark the location.

Rotate your plane to a bearing of 0 degrees and save out a mode with the ";" key, giving it an appropriate name like "Fix #1". You may want to make it the FS start-up mode while you're working on this project. At any rate, load this mode whenever you're working in the vicinity of the reference point so you can quickly jump back to center by hitting PrtScrn twice.


The following is my approach to placing ASD objects using topo maps and the ASD grid. This isn't the only way to place objects - some people use other methods like creating a temporary ILS and using DME range - but for me this is the best quick and dirty way of placing things. Remember you can do additional triangulations wherever you want an "accurately" placed point.

To place an object shown on the topo map near your reference point, first set up a grid. Hit PrtScrn twice to reset the mode, which will place you over the reference point facing north. Now exit and go to the Design Preferences menu. Set a grid size that corresponds to a scale division on the map you're using. For objects near the reference point 528ft. is good since it corresponds to the 1/10th mile subdivisions on the topo map scale. If you need the grid to cover a larger area try 2640ft, which gives you 1/2 mile squares. In this example I'm using 528ft.

After setting the grid size, hit 5 to choose "Move with object" or "Move with view" which will snap the grid to your position and heading. Now choose "Locked" and the grid will stay where it is when you move the design cursor around.

Using the scale printed on the map, set the distance between the tips of your drawing compass to match the ASD grid size - in this example, with a 7.5 minute series topo map, it would be the 1/10 mile subdivisions on the map's scale. Lay a ruler horizontally on the map (on an east-west line) against the reference point, and using the compass, walk it against the ruler counting steps until you're on a north--south line with the object you're going to recreate. Let's say it's 7 steps west of the reference point. Jot down that number, move the ruler so it aligns with north and south, and walk off the number of steps north or south to reach the object. Say it's 5 steps to the north, giving you a location of "7 west, 5 north" for the object.

Now go to Add Building, Object. The design cursor will be centered over the reference point, and so will the grid. Use the slew controls to raise your altitude enough to see as much of the grid pattern as you need to work with, and you can then use the "+" and "-" keys to zoom in and out as needed. To match the measurement you made on the topo map, move the design cursor 7 grid spaces left (west) of the reference point, and then 5 spaces up (north). Remember we're using the center of each grid square to count from.

Now build your object, using PgDn and End keys to rotate to whatever heading it needs to face. Repeat the process for each new object, hitting PrtScrn twice to reset the mode and return to the reference point before each placement. If you're building a runway then measure from the reference point to the center point of the runway on the topo map. Partial steps of the drawing compass, like 3 1/3 steps, will have to be estimated by eye against the grid. When you're through designing scenery in this area you can delete the temporary tower you placed originally.

The grid system works well for eyeballing coastlines, rivers, and roads. You can relate each point to the last one placed while checking it against your map - as in "the next point looks like it's about 4 1/3 grid spaces east and 8 1/2 grid spaces south of the last one". This is not as accurate as triangulating each point, but it's fast and you can get a lot done this way.

For objects distant from your reference point you can place several topo maps together with their edges overlapping so that the lat/long lines are lined up, and step off a fairly large distance from your reference point, using a 2640ft. (1/2 mile) or 5280ft. (1 mile) grid size. After you've finished designing the area around your first reference point, you may want to triangulate a few more reference points and move on.

Sometimes it's helpful to rotate the grid to a heading that corresponds to a coastline or road. On the topo map use a circular protractor to determine the bearing of the road (for example) and move your design cursor over the road. Now choose Add Building, Object and use the PgDn and End keys to rotate to the road's bearing, then exit to the design preferences menu. Set the grid to "Move with object" or "Move with view" so it snaps into place and then choose "Locked" , and you can now place objects to line up with the road - or use the slew keys to draw straight lines aligned with the road.



Buildings are versatile objects in ASD, they can fill in for all kinds of things. I even used one as a shark's dorsal fin, poking out of the water over a grey polygon for the shark's body. The fin is a rectangular peaked roof building squashed flat and colored the same on all surfaces so it looks like a thinner object than it really is. I made a cruise ship by stacking multi-sided buildings inside each other. Be creative and see what you can come up with.

If you want a full screen "fly-by" of your scenery, set the spot plane view on menu 2 to 2000ft. behind your plane, and set external views to full screen. Then slew around your scenery. If you want to rotate around an object, place the tiny plane shadow ahead of you on the object of interest and slew to one side. Since you're separated by 2000ft. from the plane you're spotting, the movement will be an arc around the object.

If the object you're building is big enough on the topo map, measure it with the compass, compare it to the map scale, multiply with a calculator if necessary to get a number in feet, and use that for the building length and width in ASD. For really small buildings, you might try making a paper or cardboard scale with tick marks at 50ft. intervals to lay against the buildings on the map. Building height can be estimated at roughly 13ft. per floor, and if you're not sure of the scale for something, park a car (from the Create Buildings, Objects menu) next to it for temporary reference. For airport buildings, hangars, etc. create a dynamic scenery loop (standing still) with the 767 or the Cessna as a temporary scale reference.

Always trust your eye rather than a measurement off a map when it comes to the proportions of an object, if you know what something is supposed to look like. And make sure your monitor is sized correctly for ASD. FS uses an EGA emulation mode under VGA, and some monitors don't auto-size when switching from VGA to EGA resulting in a slightly squashed looking screen. If you don't manually resize the screen so that the dials in the FS instrument panel look round, your scenery might be proportioned oddly on other people's screens. If your monitor auto-sizes and the instrument gauges are always round instead of oval you won't have to worry about this.

Here are some guidelines for combining and stacking buildings. When you join two buildings together, as for example when adding a concourse to a terminal building, you need to disguise the place where they meet. Do this by making the end and sides of building 1 where it joins building 2 the same as the outside surface color of building 2. If one building penetrates another, as in forming a "V" shaped building or a ring, you'll have to make all the vertical surfaces of both buildings the same color to disguise the join.

When you place one building inside another, the program will show the one with the closest center point to the viewer first, and the second building will be transparent. Again, you can hide this by making all the outside vertical surface colors the same for each building. The rooftops should be the same color, and they will merge together giving the appearance that it's all one building. Don't get too carried away stacking things together, remember that every new object affects the frame rate.

This combining of objects within objects doesn't yield perfect results - from some viewing angles you'll get a little bleed-through or unwanted transparency. Settle for a reasonable rendition of your object and ignore any minor flaws, remembering that it's amazing we can do this scenery stuff at all.

With objects that are concentric (where you create one object and then create a second object without moving the cursor position) the display priority is based on which object was created or edited last. This is how you'd do a lighthouse, for example - make one tall multi-sided building, and another narrower and slightly taller one inside it for the top section. Make sure the outside building is created or edited last so it covers the one inside.

Trees can substitute for a lot of other objects if you play with the dimensions and colors. By fooling with the trunk height vs. base height of deciduous trees you can get an almost spherical object. If you need to make a large dome, just make the trunk as short as possible and color it green or whatever your ground color is so it "floats" and you don't see the trunk. Then adjust width and overall height until the proportions look right. Remember that the default color for deciduous trees is the one that changes colors with the seasons, so don't use that color for special effects using trees, or for trees in warm climates. The default color is the one shown for deciduous trees when you first start up FS and ASD, and also if you choose the Reset to Default Design option.

I used rivers as beaches in my scenery, since I could vary the width at intervals, which looked realistic. White and light gray colored rivers look good as beach sand.

Forests are a problem I haven't found a good solution for so far. Using individual trees is out of the question due to the frame rate problem. The best I've done is to draw a very large brown polygon for the ground, and use huge overlapping 40-60ft. high multi-sided flat roofed buildings as forests. Colors are dark green on top and light gray on the sides. It's not great, but at least you can get some feel for the 3 dimensional structure of the forest this way, and can make things like clearings and rivers that cut into the forest canopy.

I don't have a lot to say about mountains since I'm a flatlander and didn't need them for my first big project. I did discover while fooling with some experimental scenery that you can fake a building sitting on top of a hill by making a building that's extremely tall, and surrounding it with separate mountains that ring it and with peaks that reach up and touch the building at a point representing the "ground" the building is sitting on.

I decided to do roads as light grey lines (like on the scenery disks), instead of using the ASD roads. Lines cause less of a hit on the frame rate than roads (which are actually polygons), and I wanted to include as many buildings as possible in my scenery.

Polygons need to planned in advance, since the first stages of drawing can look confusing when the polygon fill overlaps your points. Have at least a rough idea in mind of what you want to end up with, and don't worry if it looks wrong when you place your first series of points.

Go easy on the polygons if you want your ASD scenery to look good at night - there is currently no provision for changing the look of polygons, rivers, etc. in night time views and they will stand out like a sore thumb. You may have to decide like I did that it's more important to get a good daytime view than to have a reasonable appearance at night.

For doing airport taxiways, I think your frame rate is better using just a few complex polygons with up to 40 points each for the various ramps and taxiways, than if you use a large number of small polygons or road objects. I'm not absolutely sure about this.

Any pre-existing SD buildings will be transparent to new ASD scenery, which will look strange. You can cover them over with a polygon which will make them go away, or as Jeff Bingham/CPAA suggested, put an ASD building around each one as a "shell". Either method will cost you some frame rate speed compared to leaving the buildings as is.

A shareware program called APTFIX will delete black and white runways from scenery disks, so you don't have to cover them with green polygons if you redo them. This currently only works for black and white runways, not gray ones, and only on scenery disks, not the default FS scenery.


If you want your buildings to look as realistic as possible, try to use muted colors and stay away from primary colors. Objects seen from the air tend to look a bit hazed out, and you don't often see pure primary colors from the air. As an example, when I did a lighthouse that in reality is red brick, I tried it in red first and it looked like a cartoon. When I changed the color to brown it looked more realistic.

On the peaked roofs of L-shaped or U-shaped buildings it can look more realistic if you use one color as "sunlight" and another as "shadow", than if you use the default arrangement of alternating colors on the peaked roof. For Spanish style tile roofs try the brown and light brown colors, it looks better than using orange.

Optical illusions using color can solve some problems - I was looking for a wedge shape to make a football stadium, and I solved it by using a ring of rectangular flat roof buildings, with the tops and inside surfaces colored the same so your eye is fooled into thinking it's a single surface.

Have fun expanding your FS scenery horizons!

APPENDIX: Triangulation from FS navaids

You need to work from a sectional or Terminal Area chart, and there has to be a working pair of VOR's within 75 miles of the area you're working on in the default FS or SD scenery.

Check the FS manual if you're not familiar with either slewing or setting the NAV radio frequency and tuning the OBI. I use the mouse for setting the instruments and the joystick for slewing. If the area you're working on has a scenery disk make sure it's loaded.

2. On the sectional or Terminal Area chart, find a reference point (see the discussion above on good reference points) Now find the two closest VOR's that will give you a triangulation fix - on the chart they're the large circles with degree markings.

3. Lay a ruler on a line between the reference point you want and the center of one VOR (call it VOR #1). Make a pencil mark on the chart where it crosses the VOR's bearing circle. Write down the bearing, estimating if necessary, round it to an even number, and call it bearing #1. Also write down the frequency of the VOR, shown in the rectangular box near it on the chart. There are navigational protractors that will do a better job, but I just used a ruler and pencil marks. Now do the same thing for VOR #2, calling the result bearing #2.

4. Go into slew mode and slew to somewhere in the general vicinity of where you'll place your reference point. Tune in the frequency you wrote down for VOR #1 on NAV1, and tune OBI #1 until you get a "from" indication and the vertical needle is centered. Look at the bearing shown at the top of the OBI - that's the bearing you're currently on from VOR #1. If it's drastically different than the triangulation bearing you're probably on the wrong side of the VOR.

5. Turn (yaw) so your plane's gyrocompass heading (the number at the top) matches the top bearing on OBI #1. Then, if bearing #1 is less than the one you're on, turn 45 deg. to the left, if it's a higher number turn 45 deg. to the right. Now tune in bearing #1 on the top of OBI #1. Slew forward until the vertical needle is centered, then stop, and rotate to face the VOR, so your compass heading matches the OBI bearing at top. You are now on one of the two triangulation bearings.

6. Now tune in VOR #2 on NAV 2 and tune it until it shows "from" and the needle is centered. This is your current bearing to VOR #2. Write it down, then tune OBI #2 to bearing #2. If bearing #2 is a larger number than your current bearing to VOR #2 then slew forward, if smaller slew backwards, keeping the needle on OBI #1 centered. If the needle for OBI #1 drifts off center while moving forwards or backwards, stop for a minute and slew sideways (carefully) to line it up, turn if necessary so your compass heading matches the OBI #1 bearing, and then continue the forward or backward slew. When OBI #2's needle lines up and centers, hit the brakes and (Pause) - you're at the triangulation point!

This sounds complicated but you can do it very quickly after the first few times.


This article is copyright 1990 Mike Barrs. Please distribute freely via electronic media, all other publication rights are reserved. I can be reached through email on the Compuserve network at the following address.

Mike Barrs 72070,2434

 December 22, 2017  Add comments

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