Interview With Henrik Nielsen
Conducted by Dominic Smith
Henrik, could you tell us how and when you started developing for flight simulators?
I started modeling and building ships with LEGO bricks when I was a kid, and ever since then, modeling has always been a part of my life (in one form or another). In 2011 I bought FSX for my son, in a desperate attempt to keep him from playing shooting games (that was before TacPack arrived to FSX and became his favorite). Since then we have spent many hours flying across the FSX landscape, exploring as we went. However, as fun as this was, I soon discovered that the oceans contained in the MSFS world were sparsely populated, apart from the occasional default ships.
Desperate to populate the seas, I searched the internet for some ships. I must have searched every corner of the Web for MSFS ships, but what I found was mostly naval ships. There were very few decent modern civilian ships. In the first instance I didn't really think about doing them myself but after having done a small scenery of a Danish harbor town, where I needed to do a couple of simple ship models, I got the idea to do a larger shipping project to try to fill those empty seas. That idea later grew into the dream of making a truly global AI shipping project for FSX and P3D with all types of ships, and covering all the coastal waters - a kind of the WOAI for the seas of the simulator.
Henrik, could you tell us a bit about your ship designs?
The ship models I create are actually quite basic, with simple animations and effects. They are only intended as AI models and designed in mind for minimal impact on FPS. There are many people who do far better models but keeping my models basic allows me to create more models, adding a diverse and densely populated life to the ocean without sacrificing on frame rate. This is the key element in the shipping project because the ships are always secondary to flying. What good are intricately detailed ships on the ocean if you can only stutter past them? No, the simulator needs to soar like its planes, and so does the FPS.
What do you consider your best or most popular work?
I have created a number of sceneries but have only published one so far - the Global AI shipping project which has come as several different packages. This project now includes more than 250 unique models and over 540 different ships if you include the repaints. Some of my favorites are the Norwegian coastal express ferry Nordstjernen and the classic cruise ship Funchal. Both are beautiful examples of the vision of ship design before the utilitarian age of crude and ugly cruise ships and ferries. Other favorites are the models of the Danish Thetis class frigates which combine perfectly with the FSDG scenery of Nuuk, Greenland. They provide a fantastic opportunity for some helicopter training in bad Arctic weather.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a project?
The most challenging part of a project always comes in the final days of production, before it is due to be launched to the public. You want the project to be as perfect as possible but the clock is against you and however good your final project is, there is always room for improvement. That can be said of life too, can it not? This is particularly problematic of the Global AI Shipping project due to its sheer size and scope. There is no way you can hone and control every little thing. The routes stretch over thousands and thousands of kilometers, with most routes clocking 4300 kilometers in order to fit with a one-week traffic loop, with a different ship passing every 4 or 6 hours. You simply cannot check every single mile the ships travel, to verify that they don't hit something. There may be strange rocks jutting up in the middle of the virtual ocean, and coastlines in some places may be inaccurate by hundreds of meters but it is a calculated risk you have to take.
What distinguishes the AI ship project?
With the collaboration of many talented and enthusiastic designers, we have created a package that adds realism to the extensive waterways and oceans around the world. You will find ships or boats synonymous with that region of the world; crab fishing boats off the shores of Alaska, local ferries in Norway, cruise ships in the Caribbean, oil tankers in the Persian Gulf... In short, the ships in this project are accurately placed in accordance to region.
Which tools have you used for creating the package?
The packages are done with six tools: a basic version of Photoshop combined with DXTbmp for textures, AIBTC and Google Earth for creating the routes, and Gmax and ModelconverterX for modelling. I tend to stick with Gmax as it is most familiar to me and I know it delivers what it promises. Some of the other team members prefer Blender, SketchUp or 3DS. It is a personal choice; each of them can do the job you require.