CONVERTING FS2004 AIRCRAFT TO FSX TUTORIAL

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction and Downloads
Part 1:  Setup
Part 2:  FS2004 Import
Part 3:  Setting Up Landing and Taxi Lights
Part 4:  Conversion to FSX
Part 5:  Saving, Merging, and Animating the Props
Part 6:  Editing Materials and Textures
Part 7:  VC & Appendix
Part 8:  Quick Reference

PART SIX - SETTING UP THE MATERIALS AND TEXTURES

FS TEXTURE FORMATS

The first bit of information  is that some bitmaps include an alpha channel.   An alpha channel is an invisible part of a bitmap used to designate areas of reflection or transparency.  You can visualize it in DXTBmp
The typical BMP files found in most paint programs are usually called 24 bit BMP files.  These will not display in FS.  Instead, FS uses special BMP formats, including:

DXT1 - often used for partially transparent signs using a black/white alpha channel, or simple scenery textures with no alpha channel.
DXT3 - often used for aircraft with reflection, using a grayscale alpha channel (white = no reflection, black = shiny chrome).
888 or 32 bit - used for the same things as DXT3, but higher quality (and thus more disk space and graphic card load).

For FSX and later they added another file extension name, DDS, and one more format:

DXT5 - a better (?) way to create DXT3 textures.

We will use DXTBmp to examine the textures of the plane, and you can even use it to edit them if you like (along with a paint program).

If this is a plane created in GMAX,  all texture names containing _t or _T use the alpha channel for bare metal reflections.  Those without _t or _T are either normal textures (no alpha channel) or use the alpha channel for transparency (i.e. glass, blurred props, etc.).  If the plane was created with FSDS there is no such naming convention, but FSDS planes still use the 3 basic types of textures (normal, reflection, and transparency).

 I have been describing day textures above; there may be night textures as well, which light up cabin windows (drawn on the texture, not modeled), or things like logo light splashes on the vertical stabilizer.  These typically have the name of the day texture, but with _L added to the name.
The basic tasks we need to perform here are to assign night textures to all materials that have them, set reflections if needed, and set the transparency for all materials that need them.

ASSIGNING  NIGHT TEXTURES

While I will be describing each of these settings separately, there is no reason why they can't be combined for a given texture - for example, you can assign a night texture and adjust the settings for reflections at the same time.

1.  Look in the plane's texture folder using Windows Explorer/My Computer..  You may see files engine ending in _L.  These are the night textures.  A few planes have them ending in _LM, but that's rare.  Take note of the textures that have both a day texture and a night texture.
2.  If not already loaded, Import the latest version of the plane into MCX.  In our example it is dc6b.mdl.
3.  Click the Material Editor button.

textures

4.  Each texture is contained inside a material.  This material provides the instructions for FS on how to load and display this texture.  On the left side of the screen click on a material (texture) that has a night texture.
5.  On the right side of the screen you see the properties of that material.  Scroll down near the bottom and find the Textures section.  The Diffuse texture is the day texture.  Click in the Emissive Texture box, which is the night texture.  Type in the name of the night texture (usually the day texture name changed to/added _L) or click the ... button and browse to it.  After making such a change I click on the scroll button inside the scroll bar - this Editor can act funny after each edit, and you don't want to do something unintended.
6.  If there is a filename in the Specular Texture slot, highlight it and remove it.
7.  Near the top of the properties list, you will find a section called Emissive Properties.  In the Emissive Mode line, choose MultiplyBlendUserControl from the drop down box.  NOTE:  You may use any of the user controlled choices, but this is the one I prefer.  You can experiment and try them all.  Test in FS at dusk and at night.  NOTE:  The specular shine value in the image below is used in the next section.

mix mode

8.  Repeat this for each material (texture) that has a night texture.  In the DC-6B example all day textures ending with _t have night textures, as do the Interior, Virtual Cockpit, and Virtual Cockpit 2 textures.

SETTING REFLECTIONS AND SPECULAR HIGHLIGHTS

Note the difference between reflection (the chrome effect of polished metal) and specular highlights (the reflection of the sun off a shiny object).

9.  When you look at the materials listed on the right, some may include areas that need to be shiny and/or have bare metal.  In GMAX planes bare metal textures are all textures ending in _t or _T.  This is true for the example DC-6B.

If you want the material to have a shiny surface (i.e. it's not dull appearing):

Colors
Specular Color:  55, 55, 55  (see image above)

 If you wish the bare metal to have reflections, then for each of these materials set the following:

Special Functionality
Blend environment by inverse diffuse alpha:  True
Reflection Scale:  0.8
Specular Map Power Scale:  64
Use global environment map as reflection:  True or False (see below for environment map)

Specular Highlights
Specular Level:  64

reflect

10.  This is for rather shiny objects.  If you want the surface of this material to appear dull, leave the Specular Color set at 0, 0, 0.  Vary this as desired.
11.  If you only want reflections for textures that had them in the FS2004 aircraft, load each texture into DXTBmp and look at the small square in the upper right - this is the alpha channel.  If there is a gray area where the bare metal is located in the day texture, then this texture is designed for reflections, and should receive the values above.  Here is an image of the alpha channel from a DC-6B texture, note the bare metal areas and windows are gray.

alpha

12. Repeat this for each bare metal texture you want reflections.
13.  Note that if the texture does not include gray alpha channel areas where the bare metal is, there will be no reflection.  You would need to create such an alpha channel in your paint program and add it via DXTBmp (Alpha/Import Alpha Channel).
14.   Optional.  Note that FSX and later sims handle reflections quite differently from FS2004.  This means that FS2004 textures used as is in FSX and later will have very little reflection.  If you want more reflection for an FS2004  texture that already has them specified in the alpha channel, you would need to edit each of these textures. Set up DXTBmp to send textures to your favorite paint program (Prefs/Select Editor).  Then load the texture into DXTBmp, and send the alpha channel to your paint program with Alpha/Send Alpha to Editor, and darken the alpha channel by a reasonably large amount (not black!).  Save this trans.BMP image (do not close your paint program).  Then back in DXTBmp, choose Alpha/Refresh Alpha and the gray in the alpha channel box should get darker.  Choose Save, OK, and overwrite is Yes.  To test in FSX or later if the plane is already loaded, go to Options/Settings/Display and move the Global Resolution slider one notch up or down.  Click OK.  The edited texture should now display on your plane.  Adjust the darkness of the alpha channel until you are satisfied - edit the trans.BMP file, save it again, and repeat the process in DXTBmp and FS.  When finished leave the Global Resolution slider at the maximum.

SETTING TRANSPARENCY

15.  Usually there are only a few textures that require transparency, often  glass and blurred props.  In the DC-6B there is Glass, Blurred_Prop, and Interior that need transparency.  For those materials (textures), select one, then in the drop down box at the top of the Material Editor choose Set Default Transparent, then click the Apply button just to the right of the drop down box..  For glass (only) see the recipe below.

transparent

16.  If you want your glass to reflect like real glass does, use these settings for the Glass texture instead (thanks to Bill Leaming for these settings):

Alpha Test
Apha Test Function:  Always
Z-Test Alpha:  True

Bloom
No Specular Bloom:  True

Colors
Specular Color:  55,55,55

Enhanced Parameters
Z-Write Alpha: True

Final Alpha Blend
Final Alpha Multiply:  255
Set Final Alpha at Render Time:  True

FrameBufferBlend
Destination Blend:  InvSrcAlpha
Source Blend:  SrcAlpha

Special Functionality
Blend diffuse by diffuse alpha:  True
Reflection Scale:  2
Specular Map Power Scale:  256
Use global environment map as reflection:  True or False (see below for environment map)

Specular Hightlights
Specular Level:  64

Textures
This looks best with a Specular Texture that is relatively dark.  I used the Glass.bmp texture for the DC-6B, and any handy solid dark texture for other planes.

Some of these transparent parts may not appear correctly in FS, or they may not appear at all.  In this case experiment with the Alpha Test Level near the top of  the properties list.  It is set at 20-100 by default, but other values might be better.  Most of the time the default is fine.

17. The "use global environment map for reflections" set to True for bare metal and glass materials is often quoted as being the correct setting for most situations and you can use that setting if you prefer..  However,  I prefer to use the following settings:

Special Functionality
Use global environment map as reflection: False

Textures:
Environment texture:  GLOBALENV_AC_CHROME.DDS

This is a default file in the main FSX texture folder and will be used automatically when specified as above.  It gives a smoother reflection and does not turn the bare metal green.

18.  Finally, there is an even better replacement environment map that you can use - this has the advantage that the day texture doesn't bleed into the bare metal from certain angles.  It's by Bob Rivera and is globalenv_texturesv1.zip at AVSIM, but it is at other places too.  You can place this into each of the plane's texture folders, or use a texture.cfg file to specify its location.  I have not placed it into the main Texture folder (replacing the default texture) in case that causes problems for other objects in FSX.

19.  One last thing - if you are going to be applying these settings on a more than one time basis, you can use the Material Template Editor function of the Material Editor (a button just to the right of the word Apply) to create templates that will appear in the drop down box at the top.  For example, I created two - Glass and Metal Night Lit with the settings I list above.  Now all I need to do for a given material is to select it, select the proper choice from the drop down box, and click Apply.  Specify my maps in the Textures section and I'm done.

20.  Export your plane back into its standard name (overwrite), check/change the bounding box with RADItor or MDL Tweaker if needed, and load into FSX (or later).  You may have to do the Import and then Export (overwrite) again to fix displaced parts.  The slow/blurred props and cockpit windows should be partially transparent, the bare metal may have a slight reflection (look closely), and if you go to night time the night textures should turn on using the L key (lights).  The sun should also glint off the surface from certain angles when the sun is high in the sky. When looking through the blurred props clouds should be visible behind them (if present)   In the DC-6B, if you open the passenger door during the day and look into the fuselage the windows on the other side should be transparent.
21.  Make a copy of your plane's MDL file and paste it back into the folder.  Rename it something like dc6b - Final .mdl and we'll keep that as a backup.
22.  If you want to use DDS textures instead of BMP, that's fine.  Just create new DDS textures and store the BMP files away for safekeeping.  As long as the DDS textures have the same name as the BMP files, they will be used automatically.  For example, create a texture named Interior.DDS to replace the Interior.BMP file.

SETTING THE FINAL BOUNDING BOX

1.  If your model after conversion had huge numbers in RADItor or MDL Tweaker and you had to change them all to a generic number, you can now change them to more accurate values for your final plane.
2.  Open RADItor or MDL Tweaker (if not already open) and load the plane.  
3.  In MCX open the Object Information box.
4.  Bring up RADItor or MDL Tweaker on top of MCX, side by side with the Object Information window.
5.  Enter the numbers iin the BoundingBox section of the Object Information box into the RADItor or MDL Tweaker boxes (use the largest number for the radius):

object info bounding box

6.   These are the values for the DC-6B, if needed.  Press Write or Save MDL.

That's it - enjoy your new FSX or later plane!  My FSX DC-6B starts her engines - the ramp guy better get the door closed soon!

final plane


Next:  PART SEVEN -  VIRTUAL COCKPIT & APPENDIX