Dev Blog 114: Remote Stands, Improved Aircraft Paths with New Taxiway Modules & Person Animation Performance

August 21, 2018

Hello airport CEO! Long time no see but finally, as of last Monday, we’re back in full force from our summer hiatus. We’ve had a few great and sunny summer weeks where we put the development of Airport CEO on a low burner mode and focused on relaxing, recouping lost time with our friends and family and even getting around to playing a few video games. The vacation has been great and well needed but it feels great to be back and we’re feeling more energized than ever. We’re starting this devlog writing session from a bench at gate D3 in CPH waiting for our flight to Düsseldorf, from where we will continue to Cologne and Gamescom 2018. We’ll be spending the week with industry professionals getting new insights and new contacts necessary for the development of Airport CEO as well as any other future Apoapsis Studios game. But let’s not dwell into the future but instead look at the past and what we’ve been working on this past week and during the vacation.

Remote Stands

The implementation of remote stands is nearing completion. It’s been developed over the summer and contains many new simulation elements and visual and game play improvements as it introduces new vehicles, new functionality and an overall new look to the airport’s air-side operations.

Above is a few short early videos depicting a part of the simulation process with remote stands in different stage. As you can see, four new vehicles have been added including an airside shuttle bus, a stair truck, a service car and a belt loader. Any stand can be remote as long as it accepts commercial flights but the way passengers interact with a stand has seen a change: Since jetways now can be removed passengers can access an aircraft parked on a medium stand either via the ground and immediately on to the aircraft (if the aircraft type does not require elevated access), via the ground and on to the aircraft via a stair truck (if the aircraft type does require elevated access) or via a jetway. This is regardless of whether a stand is remote or not, however remote stands do default to not having a jetway present.

Remote stands are constructed by indicating that its associated boarding desk is connected to an airside shuttle bus stop, and a remote stand also requires a service car stop connecting. While passengers get transferred to a remote stand via the airside shuttle bus stop, ramp agents get there via service car. In excess of the additional routing and service simulation, turnarounds behave exactly as they do for stands that are adjacent to a terminal building, however with the added complexity of supporting certain services on a remote basis. There’s definitely a few interesting design aspect enabled through remote stands and internal testing of this feature has revealed many interesting new airport designs. Remote stands are currently in its final testing stage and we’ll be targeting an experimental release as soon as we’re able to, with a few last bugs that require ironing out and us currently being at Gamescom without a proper sense of how much dedicated development time we’ll have it’s difficult to say as to when exactly this will be but hopefully sooner rather than later.

Improved Aircraft Paths with New Taxiway Modules

In the previous devlog we introduced the new taxiway entrances and exits to make it clearer and easier regarding how to construct an efficient taxiway system. We have over the number of bug reports that have been sent to us as of recent months realized that the holding point system, as they currently stand on the default branch, are not intuitive and properly explained to be efficiently built. We are seeing a lot of unnecessary reports related to poor or “incorrect” design of taxiways and it is not fair to blame the players as the concept of holding points are far from self-explanatory if you are not too familiar with aviation and airports. As a result, we have taken a series of design choices to make this a no-brainier and in the process improved the current system and made it more flexible and stable including fixes to prevent aircraft deadlocking. While we were at it, we decided to implement another important requested feature: The option to set one-way taxiways!

To summarize, these are the changes to the taxiway system:

  • Special taxiway entrance/exits are now placed as a single object and will automatically attach to corresponding runway
  • Entrances/exits direction can be set to entrance only, exit only or function as both entrance/exit
  • A runway cannot operate without at least two entrances/exits
  • Holding points can no longer be placed by right clicking on a taxiway path, instead they will be built in each entrance/exits, so there is no need to place them manually anymore
  • By right clicking on a taxiway path you can instead set a direction; one-way or two-way
  • General bug fixing and optimization

Initial tests show that this works very well, how ever we are not very satisfied with the name so please let us know if you have a suggestion for better wording than “entrance/exit”.

Note that these features are not yet available but will be so on the next experimental version!

Person Animation Performance

One of the biggest performance impacts of Airport CEO and one we’ve talked about many times before is quite simply the large number of passengers the game engine has to handle. While this is of course highly dependent on the computer specs you have, as your airport gets larger the game must crunch a lot more data per frame as well as render an increasing amount of objects. This means that there will always be a theoretical limit in how large an airport can become and we are constantly working to increase this boundary and have done a lot of changes since early access release to improve this. As of right now, path finding general movement is very optimized and we’ve now decided to take a serious look at the actual impact animations on persons have and the fact that we currently use individual transforms and sprite renders for arms, hands, legs, foots, torso and head, which all moves around in an animation clip. Testing has shown that by reducing the number of sprites we render and even using what is called sprite or texture swapping (meaning the traditional way to use a series of sprites to represent an animation), we can significantly increase the frames per seconds when rendering multiple, up to thousands, of persons. There are still many unclear details around this and we need more time to test and find the optimal solution for Airport CEO. However, it has become clear that we can save a lot of FPS by reducing the number of sprite renders and doing animations differently from what we do now, all while greatly improving the visual style of the persons through the magic touch of our artist Mitchell (Jettuh). We will let you know more on this in later devlogs once we know the way forward.

New Aircraft Sounds

We are happy to announce that we have finally secured aircraft sounds recorded from 20 real models by the Danish company Turbine Sound Studios! This includes the models we have and are planning to add until final release, so yes, there are some wide body jet sounds there as well… the sounds we have licensed are high quality real recordings, commonly used in paid addons and DLCs for Microsoft Flight Simulator, Prepar3D and X-Plane. This is a first vital step to transform the soundscape of Airport CEO to the level and quality we want it to have. There is still a lot to do with ambiance and UI sound, which will be overhauled at a later stage and the new aircraft sounds will be implemented after the remote stand update has been released as a single feature update.

In Other News

We’ve promised screens of our office in Malmö for quite a while but still haven’t gotten around to show them. Well, unfortunately, we had planed to include them in this week’s devlog but forgot that we’d be in Cologne and not in Malmö. Let’s try again next week… as we in a few weeks time most likely will change offices (within Malmö), more information on that later.

Regarding the second large feature request in development, multiple floors, we want to let you know that it is progressing in a steady pace but before prioritizing its development we want to get remote stand out and have it being stable first. In the meantime, we also try to squash the huge bug list that has been filled up during the vacation (thanks for that!). You can always check out what’s next for the experimental branch here!

One last thing… it’s time to expand. As of this autumn, we’ll be looking to onboard a full-time developer for Airport CEO working with us in Malmö. The list of things we need to do is growing faster than we can tick them of and now is a great time to bring someone in to help us out. It’ll definitely be an interesting and valuable experience, one we will share with you in these updates of course.

That’s it for this week, see you in two weeks time with an update on Gamescom and all of our development progress by then. Fly safe!

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