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This is a breakdown of 3D programs, and their possible suitability for use in VS and MicroFlight design.I want to point out that a great place to find full version 3D programs is at your local magazine dealer... very often the develpment companies will give away earlier versions of thier software in the hopes you will become attached to the programs, and then upgrade to the newer versions.I have found three usable programs this way.

Sample Shot/Name/Link Suitability for VS? Cost Other Comments

3D Studio Max
Used for many, or maybe most, VS boats.  Over $4,000 for the latest version. Used copies of versions 2.x or 3.x may be found on Auction sites for $200 to $300. Many consider this program complicated, with many features not needed for VS. However, it allows individual naming of parts, and the manipulating of pivot points... which may become required in future versions of VS. You will need Max if you play with weapon's pivot points, or make weapon models.

Big News! This Panda X file exporter will change your life! It makes a perfect .x file straight from MAX. Just load it into your "plug-ins" folder in MAX: Panda

For a long time after Alan and I worked out the method of making x files from Gmax files, it was thought textures would not make it through the process. However, Charlotte Korsnes has been able to make texturing with GMAX work! So in the program we have a free, usable and capable 3D program for VS add-ons. Freeware, as a 21MB download, and also included on Microsoft FS2002 Pro. Often found on magazine "demo" disks... such as PC Pilot. To use Gmax, one must also install the "Tempest" module, export in .MD3 format, then convert the .MD3 model to a .3ds with Deep Exploration.

This utility "grabs" the .x file, supposedly, from GMAX during export. I cannot vouch for it, but give it a try. If it works, it will be revolutionary: MDLCommander

Yes. Version 2.2 is freeware. This "oldy but goodie" will look very basic at first. it does not have the bells and whistles of later programs... but it is fully capable of creating beautiful VS boats, and has.

AutoCAD 2000
Yes. Another "high end" professional offering... upwards of $5,000. The company offers a 15 day trial download from their website. AutoCad is primarily a 2D drafting and architectural tool, which added solid modeling and nurbs to remain competitive and useful to thier clientele. They now rate as a premier, multi-featured 3D program.
Yes. There used to be a freeware version, which I could not find when I was putting his list together. Anyone? I did just find a free, fully functioning early version on 3D Artist Magazine (March 2003) Truespace is a wonderful and complete proram, used successfully by many modelers. The menus and buttons work a bit differently than other Windows based programs... but if I did not have Max, this is the program I would use.

Open FX
May have been tried for VS. Freeware. I believe it exports in 3ds. Someone from the VS community tried this. Please contact me. Jeff informed me that some exports were "glitchy" for him.

Yes.  Freeware. Joshua Horn uses this program with great success. He designed the orignal Sealand, and other original creations, with Anim8or.

Joshua's Port Horn

Yes. "Single user", $895

"Educational", $195

Company: "Rhino can create, edit, analyze, and translate NURBS curves, surfaces, and solids in Windows. There are no limits on complexity, degree, or size. Rhino also supports polygon meshes. "

Yes. I'm not sure if it can texture or not. Freeware beta evaluation, you must "sign" an agreement, and give your personal information. V-Plot2 is a freeware program by Thierry Videlaine.

Wings 3D
Yes.  Freeware.   Jeff Koppe went Linux, and since he has, he learned this program and created his Clarissa. Wings does not texture... you must export in .3ds or .obj, and texture in a separate program. Wings was written in Erlang, and requires it's download (21MB) in order to use.

Yes. "Get a Full Version, just $1,595", says the company page. Ouch! See Simon Richardson's site for examples. He made the Deep Flight at the left with Lightwave, in addition to several others.

Good potential. $39.95  Jeff Koppe feels this program shows promise for VS design purposes. He says, "I was able to export usable, textured .x files directly from
it. "



Not yet proven for VS models. Only $20 ! Jeff also directed me to this program, which I had forgotten about. He says, "A DirectX export plug-in was recently released." It also imports .MD3, and exports to .3ds, making it a possible conversion option for GMAX.


 I've gotten models to appear in VS, not textures.  Freeware.  Hamapatch looks like a "mini-Max", with similar controls, buttons and functions. I played with it for a few hours, and was not able to get a texture to stay into VS... but guess what? It, and "X Studio" below, are the only 3D programs I've found which export a "VS usable" .x file directly. No conversion  necessary!


 I've convinced a box, with texture, to appear in VS.  Freeware again (what's going on in this crazy world. E-mail and forums going "pay", great software going free?!) Although I was not impressed at first with the look of XStudio, I have to admit that it was so user friendly, and VS compatable, that I had a textured cube... VS ready... in about 10 minutes after install! And as I pointed out above, this was an .x file, no conversion necessary!


Works in creating planes for MicroFlight. This implies that it will work in VS, but I have not tried as of yet. Freeware! Metasequoia is the freeware creation of  Yosito Sekiai of Japan. I had this program linked for some time in the list on the bottom of the 3D programs page, but Dref and a Ilan have now tried it out for MicroFlight. Apparantly it works fine! In addition, you will find many freeware models at the site.

Good tutorial here

Other programs of use with VS model/scenery creation:

Program/Link Use Cost  Comments
X-Convert Conversion utility. Freeware. Designed by Daniel Polli, X-convert makes converting your models simple. It saves your model's location, and does not need MS-DOS mode, among other things. It saves much time with frequent conversions.
Convert3Ds Converts .3ds files to .x files for final use in VS. Freeware. When using for VS, remember to use the "-m" switch in the command line, i.e.: "conv3ds -m boat.3ds". This also applies to MF cars... but for MF planes, use no switch.
Deep Exploration
Multi-format converter and viewer. $249 Deep Exploration is the newest incarnation of the venerable 3D Exploration. It converts a wide range of 3d model formats, and views both 3d models and 2d graphic formats. It also has a built in renderer with lighting options.
UV Mapper
Texture mapper. Two versions:
Freeware, and $50.
This program uses mapping coordinates on your model to create a bitmap with thier locations. You then use this bitmap to accurately place your textures. The program uses only .obj format, so you need a converter for .3ds.

Ultimate Unwrap
Texture mapper. LithiumUV is freeware. 

The new Ultimate Unwrap, it's successor, is aprox. $30

Lithium UV is another texture mapper, which Jeff used for the marvelous Clarissa. Jeff got permission to distribute this freeware program, and hosts it on his site:

Now replaced by Ultimate Unwrap, a more sophisticated program.

Hull design. Freeware. Matt Sebring has said, "...the best thing that a beginner can do (easier than trying to model complex curves in a hefty modeling program) is to make the hull in the Hulls program (freeware), export it in VRML and convert it to 3ds with 3DExplorer.

Easy Cfg Maker
Boat config maker. Freeware. Joshua Horn designed this program to aid in the creation of boat.cfg's. "It includes several useful tools... such as Tons-KG/LB-Kg converter, calculator- example CFG, user options, etc."


"Master List" for future study:

3D Studio Max
3D Studio R4 (preceded 3DS Max)
Alias Poweranimator
Alias Studio Tools
Alias | Wavefront Studio
AnimaTek's World Builder
Animation Master
CAD based software
Doga CGA
Electric Image
Inspire 3D
Lattice Designer
Lightwave 3D
Pixels 3d
Renderman - BMRT
Renderman - Photorealistic Renderman (PRMAN)
Renderman - RDC
Renderman - OTHER
Simply 3d
Softimage 3D
Softimage XSI
Strata Studio Pro
Vista Pro
Vue D'esprit