Sunday, March 05, 2006

Orbiter Web: Why Vinka Rules

Octopus Module using Spacecraft3.dll
Vinka's web site is deceptively simple, just a single page with a few download links. But it's arguably the engine that drives most of the large fleet of virtual spacecraft add-ons that are available for Orbiter. Vinka is the author of the spacecraft.dll and multistage.dll series of code modules for non-programming add-on builders. Using them, you can create spacecraft models that access many of the vehicle programming "hooks" that Martin Schweiger has made available in the Orbiter SDK (software developer kit). This is done by defining parameters in .ini files using a text editor - not always simple to get right, but no programming required.

Vinka's DLL's have long supported the basic behavior of spacecraft and aircraft, engines and thrusters (complete with customizable particle streams), and even animation of vehicle features such as landing gear and control surfaces. The latest version (spacecraft3.dll, compatible with spacecraft2.dll) has just been released, and it adds some really cool new features, including expanded aerodynamic parameters (with basic models based on the Delta Glider, Space Shuttle, and a "capsule" vehicle). It also extends animation to allow modeling of spacecraft with a user-controllable robot arm, as well as providing support for a basic virtual cockpit with slots for working MFD's and HUD!

The add-on builder is still required to create the 3D meshes and textures for everything and to define the needed parameters in the .ini files to tell the DLL what to do where and when. This remains an art in itself, but at least it removes the added requirement to be a C++ programmer. Amazing things can be built with this approach (e.g., X-15, DH-1, many more), and some have already been released that make use of the latest features such as the unusual OCTOPUS space station module by Papyref - it supports two robot arms!

In short: in the Orbiter add-on world, Vinka rules.

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