Gmax installation guide for FS2004

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You will be busy for a while if you have to find out everything you need to build your own house and show it in MS Flight Simulator 2004 (FS2004). This workshop is written to give as many people as possible the opportunity to get familiar with it.

First I will explain which tools you need, where you can get them and how they should be configured. Then I will show you how to make a simple model appear in FS2004. This is part one in the series Build your own house. In the next parts I will explain how to build your own house in Gmax, make photo realistic textures and tell you what to keep in mind if you're going to make more than one model. In this article I'll show you one way to accomplish this quest. Of course at some points there are many ways to reach the goal, but I want to keep it simple and therefore choose the method below.


The most important tool you need is Gmax. This is a 3D modeling tool which makes its possible to build you own house or some other model. At first sight Gmax seems pretty complicated with many features. Luckily you need few of these features to get a nice result. Some kind of 20-80 rule. You create the models in Gmax, but then you want them to show up in FS2004. After installing Gmax you need to install a game pack so you can export the models to a special format. To get the end result (so called bgl files) you will use the bgl compiler from a Software Development Kit. This sounds scary but is pretty simple.

Now you think this will cost a lot of money, but the opposite is true. These nice tools are all free, except for FS2004 of course. There's only one but. You want nice pictures on your structure to make it photo realistic. These pictures (textures) are created with an image or photo editing tool like Paintshop, Photoshop, The Gimp, etc. Most of these tools are not for free except the open source tool The Gimp. Everybody has their own preference which tool is better suited. Textures will not be discussed in this first part, but will be discussed in one of the upcoming articles. Let's begin.



Gmax installation

Follow the next steps to install Gmax:

  • Run the setup.
  • Register by starting Gmax. Within a few hours you will receive a registration code. You can always re-register at Turbo Squid
  • Start Gmax and fill in the registration code.

Gmax Gamepack SDK

  • Run the setup and accept the suggested default installation path. This is the directory where Gmax is installed and this way all the needed stuff is put in the right place.
  • If you installed the FS2002 Gamepack before, you can have both Gamepacks installed and configured. Follow the instructions in the document "Installing the FS2004 GMax SDK over the FS2002 GMax SDK.rtf" in the gmax\gamepacks\fs2004 directory. The FS2002 Gamepack is still very usefull to create ground polygons.


  • Run the setup. The installation directory is up to you.
  • Locate bglcomp.exe in the installation directory. Create a shortcut on your desktop.

MakeMDL SDK Update

  • Run the setup

Microsoft XML Core Services 4.0 Service Pack 2

  • Run the setup
  • Run windows update to receive hotfixes (not mandatory)


The next step is the configuration of Gmax to get a good head start with your first project. The screenshots below show my own preferences. You can set these preferences in the menu Customize. The preferences Metric in Unit Setup and the parameter System Unit Scale in the general tab are very important. A grid spacing of 10m is recommended.

Setting the preferences

  • These are my recommended preferences:

    Gmax units.jpg

    Gmax grid snap.jpg

    Gmax preferences general.jpg

    Gmax preferences files new.jpg

Here I want to set a little Hint: Set the Auto Backup on Enable - it will Help you in the future if your GMAX will Crashes to the Desktop. With this, you are aible to Recover your Work. If Gmax crashes you will find the File in the Autoback Folder at c:gmax/Autoback Look at the Timestamp of the File and copy this to another place and rename the extension to .gmax Now you can reopen the File with Gmax.

Gmax preferences viewports.jpg

Customize the user interface

After setting the preferences above you can Customize the user interface. I've configured the three most used tools with a key on the keyboard:

  • S for select tool
  • R for rotate tool
  • M for move tool

Your first Gmax model

Start Gmax and have a look around. Notice the four big squares which are called viewports. These will give you a view of your structure from several sides at once. The viewport on the bottom right is a so called perspective view by default. In this view you can have a look at all sides of your structure. Furthermore you will see white lines, these are called the grid. If you followed my preferences the distance between two lines is 10 meters.

On top in the toolbar you can see the most used tools to select, move, resize and rotate objects for example. At the bottom of the window you see a status bar, time bar for animations and a few buttons to modify the behavior of the tools in the toolbar. To the right of the viewports you see a space with six tabs in the upper part. From now on you will use only two of them. The first tab is called the Create tab and the second tab is called the Modify tab. Move your mouse above the tabs (don't click) and a tool tip will appear with these names.

The create tab is the default tab shown after startup. Several basic shapes can be selected. From a historical point of view a teapot is one of the basic shapes of 3d modeling applications. Just click on the button Teapot changing the color of the button into orange. Click and drag in the Perspective viewport. The teapot will arise and change in size by dragging the mouse. Next, click on the button Box changing the color of that button into orange. Click and drag in the Perspective view next to the teapot. While dragging you determine the base of the box. Release the mouse button and gently drag upwards. This will change the height of the box. Click once to fixate the height. The first models are ready. Lets see if we can show these models in FS2004.

Here is a introduction to modeling with GMax.

From Gmax to FS2004

The tools that shipped with FS2004 fortunately are easier than those of version 2002. Some parts are made invisible to the user and the code you will see is in XML format which will give you nice possibilities later on. Follow the steps below:

Export the model

  • Select File > Export.
  • Select a directory where you want to keep the project files of your house.
  • Type teapot as file name, for instance.
  • Select Flightsim Scenery Object (*.MDL) as type.
  • Click on Save.

The result is:

  • a mdl file which contains the model itself (according to my example teapot.mdl).
  • a xml file which contains a reference to the model including an example location in the world (according to my example teapot.xml).

Determine the location of the model

  • Start FS2004.
  • Fly or slew to the location.
  • Choose top view and be sure the crosshair is above the exact location.
  • Type +z (i.e. Z) so the red text is in the upper left corner of the window, for example 52 27.52 en 5 31.30. This is next to the runway of EHLE (Lelystad, The Netherlands).

Generate a bgl file

  • Open the xml file in a text editor like notepad.
  • Remove on the fifth line the characters <!--
  • Remove on the tenth line the characters -->
  • Change the coordinates between the quotes of lat and lon. For example: lat="52 27.52" lon="5 31.30"
  • Notice that the line which begins with <ModelData contains a reference to the mdl file.
  • Save the xml file. This is an example of the end result.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
<FSData version="9.0" xmlns:xsi='' 
   <SceneryObject lat="52 27.52" lon="5 31.30" alt="0" 
                  pitch="0" bank="0" heading="0"
                  altitudeIsAgl="TRUE" imageComplexity="NORMAL">
       <LibraryObject name="C29AB94C410F10CB1F86C8B1B24C172C" scale="1.0" />
   <ModelData name="C29AB94C410F10CB1F86C8B1B24C172C" sourceFile="teapot.mdl" />
  • Drag and drop the xml file exactly on top of the shortcut of bglcom.exe on the desktop.
  • Notice the bgl file that is created in the same directory as the xml file.

Viewing the final result

  • Copy the bgl file to the directory Addon Scenery\scenery in the directory of FS2004.
  • Start FS2004 and check in the Scenery Library if Addon Scenery is on top of the list and checked. You can access the Scenery Library via the Settings button in the startup screen.
  • Restart FS2004 and fly or slew to the place of the noted coordinates. There you should see the teapot and box.

    Gmax teapot.jpg