An Interview (25 August 2010)
Recently FlightSim.Com chatted with a Matthew Brooks, an active member of the Alpha India Group team, primarily as part of AIG Ground which develops airport scenery.
When did you start developing add-ons?
Actually only about two and a half years ago - in March 2008 - and right off for FSX, although I have later developed airports for FS2004 also. Two things coincided: I was spending 2 months in Manila, Philippines, often at the airport and knew that an update of this for FSX was sorely needed. At the same time, Airport Design Editor (ADE) had come out in its first version. It was a tool that worked for FSX and which I could actually understand, which also helps!
Is there a team?
Very much so. My first few airports were made individually but, after discussion with the team at Alpha India Group (AIG) it was decided to set up an airport development team for both FSX and FS2004, which we call AIG Ground. Alpha India Group is better known for flight plans as well as models and repaints but we are about to release our 100th airport, as I speak. The team develops airports for both sims and for both default airports and for add-on scenery airports and we have some really talented developers working with us. We were lucky - especially at the beginning - to have people like Jim Vile, Reggie Fields, Jan Martin and Jon Masterson advising us. One of the great benefits of being in a team - aside from the camaraderie - is that everything we produce is thoroughly beta tested by other developers before being released.
Have you ever considered doing full-time development?
It sometimes feels as if I am. Few people realise how much time goes into the sort of files we make. I have just completed one on which I spent 30 hours on the approaches alone. But the short answer is 'No'. The only way to go full time is to develop full blown scenery and I am not clever enough for that. I also thoroughly enjoy what I do in real life - I am a consultant to hotels and serviced apartments for online marketing and revenue management, which sounds like a mouthful but keeps me very busy and well entertained.
Do you have any experience (or lust?) for real aviation?
Don't we all lust, at some point? The closest I get to real aviation is sitting in a window seat on a flight watching what is happening with flaps and such at various stages in flight and comparing that to how I handle it in the sim on those rare occasions that I get a chance to fly.
Any memorable flights in real life?
I have a lot of air miles under my belt covering a lot of trips inside and outside Europe - to Asia, the Americas and so on. The flight I remember best, however, is my first ever - in a Chipmunk from my home airport in Exeter as an RAF Cadet. What happened when the instructor told me 'you have the controls' is still covered by the Official Secrets Act. I remember my first trip outside Europe for a quite different reason: a JAL flight that went from London Heathrow to Bankgok via Rome, Tehran and Mumbai with a 2 hour stop at each - probably still the longest single flight I have been on although I have been to that part of the world many times.
More on that "real life" of yours?
Aside from enjoying what I do, I have been really lucky in that the internet has enabled me to do that pretty much anywhere. So, I actually work primarily with hotels and serviced apartments in the U.K. but my wife and I live close to Granada, Spain and I work from home - a much more relaxed atmosphere than the hurly burly of central London.
How many airports have you developed?
I checked at FlightSim.Com and I count 34. To be honest two of them were re-done. Once AIG Ground was up and running and I had extended my experience, I went back to some of my early projects, embarrassed by the original file, and re-made them. That's something I am not shy about doing again and sometimes you have to. For example, LEMG Malaga has undergone a lot of real world changes since I developed that airport for FSX.
What's your most popular work?
My file for LSGG - Geneva FSDreamTeam scenery, which I made originally for FSX and then also for FS2004. In terms of default airports, it seems to be EGCC - Manchester at the moment with HECA - Cairo coming up close behind. In AIG Ground overall, I think the most popular have been Tom Cunningham's add-on scenery files for sceneries such as Aerosoft's EGLL and FlyTampa's LOWW v2, both of which were made for FS2004.
What about your favorite projects?
I have to say I personally prefer developing default airports. I have developed add-on scenery files but developing a default airport allows much more opportunity for creativity. As to which of those is my favourite, that's a tough one as I learn new things from every project. HECA - Cairo (which I developed jointly with Ray Smith), OEJN - Jeddah, EDDL - Dusseldorf and UUDD - Domodedovo, Moscow are probably the top four and each one for different reasons. As to my own favourites amongst the airports developed by my fellow AIG team members it would, of course, be tactless to say but there are always some really excellent projects in the works.
How about your goals in choosing a project?
Often, I choose an airport in an area where I also want to develop my AI traffic or simply a part of the world where I have not flown before and which I want to experience. I enjoy getting to see new AI traffic - away from all the Boeings and Airbusses, which was what got me started on Russian airports. Obviously, I will only develop something which I am also going to enjoy using but we do also get requests quite often - in Alpha India Group forums or direct to each developer. Each developer in the team decides what he wants to develop. If a request fits my own ambitions, I will take it on. That makes for a pretty long 'to do' list at any one time.
Are you developing for FS2004 or FSX or both?
I have both sims and I still (occasionally) fly in each one. I mainly develop for FSX simply because, again, the opportunities for creativity are greater - I am able to build up airport surroundings as well as the airports themselves and have a wider choice of scenery objects to use in FSX. But, I do still develop airports for FS2004 from time to time.
What software packages do you use?
As a group we use Airport Design Editor (ADE) by Jon Masterson and the team. This is a freeware airport editor and has many extra features, including a graphic approach editor developed by Jim Vile. When it was first launched, ADE was for use in FSX only but it now has an FS2004 version also, so that everyone in AIG Ground is able to use the same software, which makes beta testing and general discussion within the team very much easier. As a team we have also worked with Jon on other software for FS and we are frequently engaged in the ADE beta testing ahead of the release of a new version.
Have you any future projects?
There is always something on the go - for me and for each of the other developers. Most of us need to take a break of a month or two sometimes - partly for real life and partly simply to fly or to update AI traffic. AIG Ground release rounds of around 8-10 airports every two months, or so, so the next one is never far away. Unconnected with airport development, Alpha India Group is deeply engaged in a project at the moment which will result in a really exciting development for the community being launched in a few weeks.
What can sites like FlightSim.Com do to support the hobby?
Like a lot of people, I got to know FlightSim.Com much better when Avsim was hacked and I turn to FlightSim.Com now in a way that I did not before that. I have been very impressed with what I have seen and it is great that one of your team participates in Alpha India Group forums, so that there is always good liaison in place. We are also liaising well about that other project but I cannot mention that yet, can I?
What about the future of flight simulation, even beyond FSX?
It would be a terrible waste if FSX truly turns out to be Microsoft's last flight 'simulator' - at this stage who knows what the recently announced "Flight" will be or, indeed, whether it will ever be. However, at the same time, there are other parties, primarily Aerosoft, coming into flight simulation and there is good contact between the community and Aerosoft on what they may develop. In some ways, competition is good and I feel sure that the next simulator will increase the opportunities for add-on development. However, there is also a risk that direct competition on a 'like for like' basis will fragment the wonderful community that has developed around flight simulation so far. Only time will tell and, if I don't like what I see, I am happy to stick with FSX and FS2004.
View Matthew Brooks related add-ons in the FlightSim.Com file library