Getting Started in Max

Updated 10-25-2005

As with any project, getting organized makes things easier and reduces frustrations. The information presented here pertains to those that wish to use gMax or 3D Studio Max in the design of objects for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 or 2004.

The majority of us will be using gMax, as it is free. So I will explain what is needed for it first. I will be using the default locations thru out so if you don_t have things in the same places, you_ll need to make adjustments accordingly. If you don_t understand DOS directory structures, I suggest you always accept default locations. Also, I will be using the term _directory_, it is completely interchangeable with the term _folder_.

You MUST have Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 Pro version as the files referred to here do not come in the Standard version. If you purchased Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 Pro and have done a full install to the default location, C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\FS2002, there is a subdirectory in your FS2002 folder named gmax (C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\FS2002\gmax). Inside this directory is a file named gmax_setup.exe. Executing this will install gMax version 1.0 to your hard drive. Its default install location will be C:\gmax. Once gMax is installed you may need to restart your pc as some modifications have been made to your operating systems startup files. I think it is a good idea to restart after installing or uninstalling a program anyways.

Before you start gMax go back to the C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\FS2002\gmax directory and look in the C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\FS2002\gmax\Flightsim\plugins subdirectory. (Click here if you are going to set up for both FS Gamepacks) There are two files that need to be copied to your C:\gmax\plugins directory. FSModelExp.dle, the export module and makemdl.exe, the compiler. When you have finished a _scene_ in gMax and want to use it in the sim you need to export the data. What happens here is that the data is run through the export module and converted to a *.X file that makemdl.exe can compile to either a *.bgl (flight simulator scenery) file or a *.mdl (flight simulator flyable/drivable aircraft/vehicle model) file. Exporting is not necessary to learning gMax but only for making your model something you can use in the simulator.

Since Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 Pro was released and as of this original writing on 11-09-03 there have been two upgrade versions of gMax. The latest version is v1.2. It has been distributed with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, however the export module FSModelExp.dle (65kb dated 09-12-2001) is not included, so you still need FS2002Pro for that. If you download the new version from the internet, I would also suggest you get and install the extended help and tutorial files that go with it. Several bugs have been fixed in the later version including the _No Work On Sundays_ problem and a new interface for the Material Editor.

As of 10-06-2005, the new owners of gMax will no longer support the program as a stand alone application so you will definatly need atleast one version of MSFS to install it, either FS2002Pro for v1.0 or FS2004 for v1.2. Or maybe you have a friend that has them archived somewhere.

Makemdl.exe has also been updated from the original FS2002Pro release of version 8.00.010912.01 to version 8.00.020403.01. The version you are using can be verified by looking at the title bar when the program is open.  Several bugs were fixed. One big obvious difference is a change in gMax_s System Units Settings, which I_ll cover more in depth shortly and the ability to keep files, (the *.asm and *._0.asm) in the export pipeline.

I strongly recommend getting version 1.2 of gMax as well as makemdl.exe from the MakemdlSDK. It will make your modeling a lot less frustrating but you need to be aware of the differences as many older tutorials are written for earlier versions. This will mainly pertain to the area of the Material Editor in gMax.

Two other helpers I strongly recommend getting for exporting are MdlCommander v.1.03 and MiddleMan v.1.3. One of the benefits of MdlCommander is it_s ability to capture and write the *.X file (a regular compiler source text formatted file) to your hard drive during the export process. It runs in the background at export time so you don_t see it. MiddleMan acts as a front end for MdlCommander and also lets you fix some settings such as Specular levels instead of having to do it manually by editing the *.X file because FSModelExp.dle has a bug which truncates the gMax value.

Another helper to consider is Fsregen. It is made for modifying the *.asm files before being compiled with bglc.exe.

With these programs all installed, the final export pipeline looks something like this:

Gmax scene exported thru FSModelExp.dle to a *.X file in memory.

MdlCommander captures the *.X file from memory and writes it to the harddrive. (The captured *.X file can be viewed and modified with a regular text editor such as notepad.exe).

Middleman modifies Specular values in the *.X file and passes compile options to makemdl.exe.

Makemdl.exe converts the modified *.X file to *.asm files and then compiles them to either a *.bgl (scenery file) or *.mdl (model file). Note: If the Keep Files option is selected then the *.asm and *_0.asm (bglc source text) files are not deleted after compile and can be modified if you have an understanding of this programming language, then compiled using bglc.exe from the SpecialEffects_SDK.

Now then, I mentioned there is a System Unit Scale difference between the two versions of makemdl.exe. The early version uses inches and the later version uses meters.

If you use the metric units with the old version of makemdl.exe, a properly scaled model will come out looking like a miniature airplane in the simulation and vise versa. A properly scaled model using inches with the newer version of makemdl.exe will make the model gigantic. It is critical that you set the System Units Scale according to the version you are using. You get to this setting inside gMax by selecting Customize from the menu bar then select Preferences from the drop down menu then in the upper left corner select the General tab_ it is usually what pops up anyway. DO NOT confuse these settings with the Customize > Units Setup settings which are there for you as a modeling aid and are for setting the units of measure you prefer to work in. I have mine set to Decimal Feet as this is handy for transferring measurements from gMax to the aircraft.cfg file when the need arises. If you are used to the metric system then you can work in meters. The thing to remember is that what ever your choice is here, you are modeling in Real World Units on the screen. So a 10 ft cube comes out as a 10 ft cube or a 10 meter cube comes out as a 10 meter cube in the simulator so long as the System Units Scale is properly set.

Once you have these settings established, you are ready to start your gMax modeling experience. Work thru the tutorials as these will give you a feel of the program. The more you work with the program, the more proficient you will become with it. Some things may not be clear at first but as you work along you will have those moments of enlightenment and all of sudden many things will become crystal clear.

Visit forums that are related to modeling. While some may not be directly related to what your working on you might find a missing piece to something that has you puzzled. Do searches of the forums for previous discussions related to the problem you are having. If you cant find the answer through a search, then ask Remember to mention what tools you are using and state your problem in such a way that what you are trying to do can be easily understood. Most people don_t mind helping with things that haven_t been asked 10 times before or could be answered by just scrolling to the bottom of the page for that forum.

Avsim Forums

Freeflight Design Shop Forums

FlightSim.Com Message Forum

Simviation Forums

Try different tutorials. Many of the 3d Studio Max tutorials can be used as well. The basic building blocks and modifier functions are the same.

There are two books that have been published which are excellent sources of information. The gMax Bible with cd and tutorials by Kelly Murdock and The gMax Handbook by Clayton E. Crooks II, also with cd and tutorials and gMax v1.2. They are not real expensive and can be ordered on line from places like, where I got mine, or you can find them in better book stores. I know Barnes and Noble carries them so have a look there and check the prices, then get it from the place that offers the best deal for you.

If you are using 3d Studio Max, most of what I have talked about here is the same except the file export pipeline. Your System Unit Setting must be the same as in the gMax portion as well as the Units Setup. You will NOT need FSModelExp.dle but you will need the Pandasoft DX export version for 3d Studio Max v 4 and later and makemdl.exe from the MakemdlSDK. The pipeline is as follows:

Export your 3d Max scene using the Pandasoft X file exporter. Click here for more info.

Compile the exported *.X file using makemdl.exe to the necessary *.bgl (scenery) file or *.mdl (model) file.

Other Helpful Links:

Freeflight Design Shop Tutorials

Simviation gMax Tutorials