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Low intensity & coverage area of apron lighting

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First of all thanks for your beautifully modelled airports. 

Please take the time to read this topic. Its a bit long but it will give u a detailed understanding of a severe shortcoming which I feel nobody has yet pointed out but a serious realism killer. These are the 2 broad issues:


  • Firstly, the intensity of apron lighting of airports at night are not sufficient.They are a bit dim. Generally, the airport aprons or the gates are super brightly lit at night.What i find a bit realism hampering is that the apron lightings are not that bright in the modelled airports.I have attached some screenshots how bright airport ramps look like at night in real life.The apron and ramp areas are lit by super bright lamps at night and then are no portion in between the gates or ramps where it looks a bit dark unless 2 consecutive gates are very far apart.This thing is applicable for almost all airports but becomes specially important for large airports. Apron areas lit by super bright lamps brings a vibrancy and adds to the liveliness of the airports.


  • Another thing which is equally important is the coverage area of the lights,i.e; the area/distance upto which a light from a particular lamp illuminates, which is also not proper. The lights are dispersed in a very tight cone and rather too focused. The lights are not scattered properly as it should. 


         A bit of explanation regarding the above two issues for your easy understanding- 


Below are 3 screenshots:















1. In most cases,the night lights in the sim is like the leftmost one(1st pic), both at airports and in general to a certain extent.(Obviously not so much highly focused but what I am trying to point out is the tight focus and the coverage area).Notice that the immediate surroundings suddenly becomes dark and the central part where the light actually falls is super brightly lit. There is a sharp noticeable contrast.


2. Whereas the apron/gate lighting or in general the airport lighting looks like the 2nd & 3rd picture in real life (sry for a bit disoriented positioning of the pics). Firstly, notice the intensity of the apron lights. Also, Considering the height at which the lamps are placed in the aprons, the coverage area of the lights should be like the one shown in the 2nd and 3rd pic. Also, Note the scattering of lights due to which the surface/ground looks almost evenly lit and not in sharp focused patches of light. The surface is lit even beyond the taxiway leading to the stands and generally its like that at almost all major airports.


3.And now a direct comparison of an airport in the sim with what is it actually in real life. Below are two real life night shots of Graz airport, Austria ,that's one of the airports modelled by Orbx for MSFS. They may not be so clear and has a bit light glow due to the cockpit glass, but good enough to understand the core issue.


Notice the high intensity of the apron lights and the distance upto which the ground is illuminated (i.e. the coverage area of the lights).And I have compared with an in sim shot of the Orbx version of the same airport further below:






































And here is a night screenshot of Orbx- Graz airport, Austria for MSFS. Notice the too quick fading of the light intensity as well as the way too low intensity of the apron lights and the very low distance upto which the apron light illuminates.




The possible causes of my 2nd issue may be low ground reflectivity, improper modelling of scattering of light (which are definitely MSFS bugs if these are the issues) and one is definitely low intensity of the lamp itself (which 3rd party devs like u have control over while modelling your airports)


Now coming to a possible solution which is to increase the intensity of the lights which rather is a must for the very reasons demonstrated above. I have posted a screenshot of Graz airport only but this is the case more or less with all the airports of Orbx as well as of other devs. The recently released San Jose international airport particularly has that low intensity apron lights issue. The 2nd issue is not so prominent in this particular airport addon but the light intensity is way too low.As I said, International airports like this has super bright apron lights and closely spaced lamp masts causing an almost uniform super brightly lit airside area. And this is one of those which makes the airside look so vibrant and lively especially for airports of that size.  Without this properly done, its almost same as X-plane or P3D apron lighting.


Now generally speaking, by increasing the intensity of the apron lights,the coverage area of the lights would increase a bit and make my 2nd issue a bit less prominent at airports but not altogether remove it. I feel there is some bug regarding the way the lights cast by the lamps and their reflections are rendered in the sim.Its not as realistic and close to real.


Why I am telling all these in Orbx support forum is because firstly,Its the 3rd party devs like u those who are bringing out the airport addons and modelling the night lighting. Secondly, as far as I know, Orbx and similar big 3rd part devs are currently working around the MSFS SDK & closely in touch with Asobo and Microsoft to suggest workaround regarding sdk bugs, providing ways to improve the sdk and so on and that's the reason I am sharing this you. By the time Asobo notes and understands this issue from their own forums(because hardly they have any airports with night lighting), there may be some 200-300 airports already launched by 3rd party devs and then it may not possible to update each and every airport and many might not be updated.


So please take a note of my issue and atleast increase the intensity of apron lights because I am sure u yourself must have observed and experienced what i have said above and how nice it looks when the airside area is super brightly lit. I eagerly hope we can see this properly done from now on to bring your airports to that next level.


Regarding the 2nd issue,I don't know if its possible to render that correctly in the current SDK. Hopefully, this is a MSFS bug and not of Orbx. If that's the case please do the needful so that its atleast possible in the sdk to render that properly by 3rd party devs as soon as possible. And definitely hoping for a reply from ur side atleast for the pain I took in detailing so much.:)


Thanks for reading




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Thanks for the feedback.


There's a number of things to take in to account when comparing game lighting with reality in generally, and in particular with sim platforms.


- Engine lighting limitation

We're only able to use the lighting functions provided by the platform engine. We can't manufacture a fancier or more powerful plugin to overcome lighting issues. Fortunately, although it's fairly basic in functionality; the MSFS lighting system is simple to use and has just enough features with little performance impact to make a believable scene.


- Photographs don't always match reality

Bear in mind that almost all night photographs that we could use as reference images for night lighting at airports are over-exposed by necessity. When taken on long exposure, more light is captured in the scene which makes the image appear unusually bright. This is particularly noticeable around the 'edges' of light where the light source feathers off into darkness. 


- Performance

Every light added to a scene has a performance impact. For every light source, the CPU/GPU has to calculate the impact of that light on every single polygon and texture it comes into contact with in addition to the regular ambient light. For this reason, we have to be very creative with our selection of light types, number and placement. Often this means placing a single light source, for example, on an apron light where in fact there may be 5 or 6 different floodlights. In P3Dv4+, this also reduces the 'burning' effect seen when an area is lit by too many lights.


- PBR surface types

This is probably the most important aspect when calculating lighting in a full PBR environment. As you are no doubt aware, different surface types have differing degrees of smoothness and reflectivity - the fundamental basis for PBR. Your example of Graz is a perfect representation of this. At Graz we use a number of different lights in the scene but the apron lights are all basically the same. The difference is the surface type that's being illuminated. The area where the light intensity appears to drop off is where the surface type changes from concrete (relatively smooth and light) to asphalt (rough and dark). Hence, the light is absorbed on the rougher/darker section which gives the impression of a sudden drop off.


The best everyday example of this, is driving on a well lit highway where there road surface changes from concrete to asphalt - the concrete section feels much more brightly lit even though the light source is the same.

- Creative licence
Lastly, we tend to make what we think looks good. Usually, this is also what looks most realistic in the platform environment but occasionally we add or remove parts which may be technically correct but just don't feel right!

Is the in game lighting perfect? No. But the MSFS lighting is by far the most impressive we've had to work with in a simulator platform to date.

Hopefully this gives some insight into the development process as it pertains to in-game lighting.



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Thanks @Greg Jones for your help and I totally agree with all your statements regarding the reflectivity, exposure and performance issues & that there is a difference between photographs and reality.


But what I meant to say was-keeping aside the over-exposed photographs and pics, in real life too we see much more intense flood/apron lights than in the sim and I am sure you would agree with me regarding this. And however little illumination it may be, considering the height at which the lamps are placed and the intensity of the lamps in real world airports (as well as considering all other aspects like reflectivity of surfaces, etc.), I am sure you would agree that the flood lights illuminates the surface upto quite a far extent relative to the extent upto which the lamps illuminate the surface in the modelled airports like Graz and others in the sim. In the posted real world shot of Graz airport(infact it was a live recording of a landing), even if I consider that its over exposed, but the flood lights does illuminate the surface atleast upto the grasses, however little it may be; its not just an impression because of that overexposure or brightness. But in the sim-its absolute dark much before that.


Next, I also agree regarding the impression of sudden drop-off of illumination due to change of surface types, but infact in the sim it looks too prominent and highly exaggerated and the illumination intensity does fades off too quickly even if there are no change of surfaces-I have images to prove that from other modelled airports. Having said that,I am sure you would agree that the way the surface reflectivity, surface absorption of lights, scattering of lights,etc. are modelled in the sim is not completely flawless.


Regarding to the the last statement you made, I absolutely agree that the msfs lighting is a lot better in terms of other platforms and thats the very reason I and infact many other users are expecting that level of realism.We have hopes that these all features might be possible to implement in this platform which were not possible earlier.


And yes, now coming to the most important part- "performance", that's definitely a point to consider. I just want to clarify whether even by increasing only the intensity of the lights, the performance is affected in the sim or does it depend only on number, types & placement of the lights as u said and not on intensity ??


And if its the latter one, then atleast by increasing the intensity of the lights of the airports, whatever shortcomings I said could be partially eliminated if not fully and I think u would agree with me that by doing that, the airports would look much better and lively. And if increasing lamp intensity also affects performance, in that case, I feel that there are already several sliders in graphics settings of msfs. The level and quality of night lighting of the airports in the sim can be linked with those settings in the sim so that by adjusting the sliders in the in-game settings, the quality/number of apron lighting in the airports gets automatically adjusted. I mean u could make 3-5 quality levels of airport night lighting to support various system configurations. I am saying these because there are many simmers out here who have spent thousands of bucks to get that level of graphical fidelity in the sim, then why not provide them that level of detail and realistic night lighting if their systems can support those !!

I hope u understand and definitely correct me if I am wrong.


Thanks again for reading

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I forgot to mention that I understand the fact that all that is discussed above regarding reflections, illumination drop-offs and all are game engine limitations and that u have no control over those. Infact, that was what I tried to convey by saying that the night lighting of msfs is not completely flawless and even u agree to that, but its no doubt lot better than other sim platforms. I just discussed all these so that if any fine adjustments or recommendations could be made from your side to Asobo, in future it might be made more accurate. 


Btw, I realised that the apron/flood lighting of San Jose airport is fine. I thought the intensity was a bit low but I saw its good enough:). Just I feel some areas of Graz airport aprons could be illuminated a bit more either by increasing the intensity of lamps a bit or placing a few more lamps, to the extent possible considering performance reasons. Please don't take me otherwise, all I discussed are completely my humble opinions based on my personal observations. U all are professional experts in this field and better know how to tweak, adjust those for a better realism.

Looking forward to your upcoming airports.



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