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The Threads that Weave the MAK ONE Tapestry

MAK is quickly approaching that magical time of year — release time! Almost every March for the last ten years, we have released the MAK ONE suite. Usually, I/ITSEC heavily influences our release roadmap; we have a general goal to finalize features to show off at I/ITSEC, and then a full push to go through final testing and bug fixing that culminate in a set of product releases at the end of the first quarter.

As we approach release season, our engineering and product management team generally feel a lot of strong emotions. There's a strong sense of relief to get what we have been working on for the whole year out the door, coupled with frustration that there are many new features that aren't quite ready for release. This frustration stems from the fact that our products and their features are seldom discrete and finite things. I often think of features as threads that run through time, crossing individual releases and waxing and waning. Sometimes we work on a significant feature for many years with intermediate drops of partial functionality into releases along the way. Sometimes we end threads, and sometimes we introduce new ones.

This set of releases is like most — in the middle of the tapestry with some threads ending, some right in the middle, and others just beginning. All of them contribute to the strong foundation and capabilities of the MAK ONE suite.

One major thread coming to a close is the rewrite of the VR-Vantage render engine to the new Indirect Rendering pipeline. We started this journey several years ago as we moved from Open Scene Graph (OSG) rendering for almost all scene elements to a new modern OpenGL pipeline using techniques such as indirect rendering and bindless textures. The details can be technical, but the quick summary is that almost the whole scene is computed and rendered on the GPU instead of being composed using the CPU and passed to the GPU one piece at a time. Over the last few years, we have moved more and more of our scene to this new pipeline, and now with the advent of VR-Vantage 2.7, we will have moved entity rendering too, our final piece. This means that we can generate scenes with significantly more models that are more complex, with much better performance than ever before.

Another thread that is finishing up in VR-Vantage is a multi-year overhaul of the content pipeline to FBX. While many in the industry continue to use OpenFlight for traditional runtime-ready moving models, MAK has added support for a full Autodesk/FBX pipeline, allowing customers to create and import models in the same way they would for all modern game engines. All of this helps our customers add and modify content quickly, with the ability to use resources already used by artists around the world. Further enhancements to the pipeline are coming in DI-Guy, too, as we improve our skeletons and motion import to allow customers to eventually drop new animations into DI-Guy and configure them effortlessly.

On the Simulation front, one bundle of threads that we have been focusing on involves the air environment. One part of this is literally the "Air" — VR-Forces has dramatically overhauled its modeling of the atmosphere. Users can now define multiple wind levels ("winds aloft") and numerous environmental conditions, like blowing dust and blowing snow. Further, customers can define areas of turbulence to stimulate their high-fidelity pilot training flight sims. Simulation of the atmosphere is just the beginning of a thread that will continue to impact future VR-Vantage releases, where we will be reworking our rain and snow environments to be volumetric, allowing pilots to fly over, next to, and into them, like they do now with our volumetric clouds.

Sometimes one thread turns into another. The weather environment improvements that give us winds aloft have led to improvements in the VR-Forces flight model. In VR-Forces 4.9, aircraft can be tasked to fly using Air Speeds, like True Air Speed (TAS), Indicated Air Speed (IAS), or Mach. When tasked to fly at 569 knots (IAS), the aircraft will consider local weather conditions, altitude, and other factors to maintain that airspeed even when flying through local weather areas or wind corridors. Improvements in flight models don't stop with the movement of Air. VR-Forces aircraft can now take advantage of VR-Forces full Earth magnetic model. Users can task vehicle movement (ships, aircraft, anything) to follow a magnetic course with a correct magnetic declination worldwide.

Our latest improvements to MAK ONE extend beyond the Air. One thread found in many of our past VR-Forces releases is dynamic terrain and another is improvements to our land-use data. These two threads briefly intertwined for this release to give us persistent vehicle tracks. Vehicles will leave tracks on the ground-based on the land use conditions (dirt, hardpack, pavement, grass, etc.), and those are published on the network as part of the simulation. This means information about where vehicles have been throughout the length of the exercise is visualized and can be manipulated by instructors and saved in the scenario. These tracks are useful for ISR training where people need to understand what forces went where and when.

These are just a few of the many threads that run through the releases coming later this month. Many more will continue to be woven in, and some exciting ones are just beginning. We hope you'll stay connected with us as we continue to weave this intricate and beautiful tapestry that is MAK ONE. 

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