Thursday, May 04, 2006

New Orbiter!

I haven’t written too much about Orbiter the last few weeks, partly because I’ve been busy, but mostly because I’ve been on the beta testing team for the new Orbiter 2006 version. This was so I could get a head start on revising Go Play In Space for the new version (that’s one of the things I’ve been busy with). There was a lot of interesting stuff going on, but I couldn’t write about the in-work beta versions.

But today I can, because Orbiter 2006 has been released. The second edition of Go Play In Space is also done and is available on new co-author Andy McSorley’s Virtual Space Flight web site, and also in the Orbiter wing of MiGMan’s Flight Sim Museum. MiGMan is also hosting most of the new Orbiter files as one of several mirror sites (thanks, Pete - if new files are not there for download, they will be soon).

Orbiter 2006 has some great new features, including support for high resolution level-10 planetary surface textures, improved physics modeling, “visual helpers” that dynamically show the forces acting on your spacecraft, and enhanced lighting effects (spacecraft can now enter a planet's shadow). But my favorite new features are in the usability department. The no-panel “glass cockpit” view now has buttons for all the basic controls, so you can fly no-panel add-on ships without remembering dozens of key commands. The Scenario Editor is amazing – you can change virtually anything about a scenario as it’s running, visually and interactively. You can even add new ships, position and orient them as desired, then click the Save button and you’ve got a new scenario. Set up specific orbital elements, formations, docked ships, etc.

Another great feature is the flight recorder – it records the states of all your ships so you can play back the flight and see it from any viewpoint. It even records time compression to allow long flights to be saved without generating huge recording files. Recorded flight files can be edited to add text that plays back with the scenario, providing explanatory commentary or training notes – great for tutorials. The new release includes several of these annotated tutorial playbacks (a couple by me). Playbacks are not “videos” – they are actually running in Orbiter, so just open the playback control, press the STOP button – and you are flying the spacecraft.

I will be adding some more pictures from the 2006 version to my Flickr site in the days to come, and also writing about some cool things you can do in the new version. It’s a big improvement on an already excellent space flight simulator. And still free.

N.B. One good thing is that with few exceptions, add-ons that worked well with Orbiter 2005 will still work well in the 2006 version, including DanSteph’s essential Orbiter Sound 3.0.

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