Freeware Focus: Kirk Olsson And Friends
By Andrew Herd (8 October 2005)
The FlightSim.Com file library offers some powerful, but little used search tools, one of which is the ability to sort search results by date, number of downloads, file size, file name and file section. If you go to the advanced file search page, leave the 'search only file section' drop down at 'all file sections', type in the the name of a developer in the 'search for text' box, select to sort the file list by 'downloads' in the lower left hand box and select descending in the right hand box, you will get a list of files headed by the most downloaded file associated with the developer's name and proceeding to the least. I have no idea how many thousand freeware developers have posted files over the years, but when you do a search like this, you will turn up repaints and mods as well as base aircraft files, so it is a kind of lucky dip unless you get smart with the keywords. However, when you are faced with finding a developer's most popular output, there is no quicker way of getting down to pay dirt and we use the method every time we do a Freeware Focus.
Normally, the first page of ten files totals something like 25,000 downloads for a really top-notch freeware developer/development team. If a file scores more than 1000 downloads, it stands out from the crowd some, 5000 is better than the majority of packages will ever achieve even if you count all the repaints, and 10000 is exceptional, but some addons do much better than that.
Set up the search page as I have suggested above and type in 'Kirk Olsson' in the 'search for text' box before letting the engine rip. Got a calculator handy? When I added up the total of the files on the first page, the total amounted to over 141,000 downloads. Top of the list was one of the most popular freeware planes ever released for Flight Simulator, Kirk's F-16 Fighting Falcon (USVIPER.ZIP), with over 46,000 downloads, below it was his Fairchild Republic A-10A Warthog (FS9A-10A.ZIP), with nearly 28,000, third was a version of his McDonnell Douglas C-17 with a panel by Paul Schwerdtfeger, repainted and textured by Scott Roy (GOLD_C17.ZIP). Incredibly, the C-17 is not even an FS2002 addon; it was designed for FS2000, uploaded more than four years ago and ran up so many downloads that it still managed to stay in this incredible top three.
See the screenshots, feel the adrenaline, huh? Fourth file in this awesome list is an afterburner effect for the F-16 (AB_F16_.ZIP) by Jan Rosenberg that has racked up 9600 downloads; then we get Kirk's FS2000 Lockheed Orion (P3COR.ZIP) which reached nearly 8000; followed by another co-operative variant of the FS2000 C-17 (C17GLIII.ZIP) with Paul Schwerdtfeger's panel and repainted by Scott Roy; and an FS2002 Mikoyan MiG-21 SMT (MIK212K2.ZIP) based on an Olsson visual model, repainted by Justin Lamb, with an air file by Jim Coarse and packaged by Chris Coarse.
Eighth in the list is the fantasy FS2004 F-136B Orbital Defense Interceptor that uses Kirk's sounds (F136.ZIP), capable of Mach 4.47 and space flight capabilities, circa 2014. Given that you can't go higher than around 100,000 feet in FS2004, you won't get the F-136B into space, but nearly 7000 simmers have tried it out to date. Ninth is an FS2002 Mirage F1 (F1V2.ZIP), that has done a disappointing total (by Kirk's standards, though most developers dream of achieving this kind of success) of 6,500 downloads; and tenth is a Hellenic Air Force variant of the F-16C for FS2004 (F16_HAF3.ZIP), in 'Aegean Ghost' livery, a co-operative venture. This addon tells as good as story about FS freeware as you could hope to read, in that it was created by a multinational team of individuals, each of whom is well known for their prowess in a particular area and who have pooled their efforts to form a complete package. The Aegean Ghost F-16 sees Kirk backed up by Angelos Hatzikatakos, who did the sound; Nick Karatzides who did a new 2D panel, modified an actual Lockheed Martin checklist and wrote a 52 page pdf flight manual; Eric Marciano whose well-known radar and HUD gauges are used; and finally, there is that set of afterburner effects by Jan Rosenberg.
The panel I use with the F-16 is Eric Marciano's (FLF16PNL.ZIP), which is in turn based on a panel by Johan Peeters - both these guys deserve Freeware Focus features in their own right, because they have released some truly excellent packages in their time. As you can see, the F-16 not only looks and flies a zillion dollars, it has effects files to die for.
Where was I? Oh yeah, Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooooooow!!!!
Is the F-16 so good it deserves all the attention it has got? Just download it (USVIPER.ZIP) and you can decide, because it is as fun as all get out. Kirk really has done the most fantastic job on the plane and I can think of at least one payware package that trails a poor second by comparison. In the tradition of freeware, if you use this version, you will need to shop around to get a 2D panel, but the plane comes with a reasonably VC and a great sound set and I had such fun taking the screenshots, my dinner ended up being fed to the dog. At gross, you need a reasonably long runway to get airborne, but once you have flying speed, you can just pull the stick back and zoom as high as you want to go - or you can do what I did in the shots above and duke it out in the Arizona badlands. Repaints? There are hundreds of them, some of which have achieved the distinction of a couple of thousand downloads themselves - try Justin Lamb's White Falcon set (WHITEFAL.ZIP) if you want to see something special - I've included a screenshot above right. Download it and take a look under the wings.
By the way, don't feel guilty about stopping midway through this piece and downloading all the files - but I'm warning you now, if you don't read right to the end, you might miss something!
I'm not certain why the Hawg has only done half as well as the F16. Of the two, it is definitely my favorite. It was the plane that rescued Lock-On for me - modern fighters duke it out in the stratosphere, firing on radar at targets the pilots never see, but A-10 drivers have to get right down and dirty - and it was such a great plane to fly in that sim. Kirk's is definitely the best one I have seen for FS, just look at it, for Pete's sake. How can anyone have designed anything so ugly and yet so beautiful at the same time? The addon (FS9A-10A.ZIP) you see in the top row of screenshots has a visual model by Kirk, livery by Marcel Verdult, sound and panel by Webinblue and has been packaged by "Maverick", with special thanks to Marcel Ritzema. As Flight Simulator becomes increasingly sophisticated, it has become increasingly uncommon to see packages developed by one individual and this kind of team effort is the rule nowadays, because it is rare for one person to be able to do it all. In addition, with the tremendous expansion of the hobby over the past few years, the pool of 'casual' simmers has become much greater and old-style packages where you had to assemble a jumble of files into a working FS plane are only memories, largely because they have become a support nightmare. I hear the most incredible tales of users hounding developers over minor bugs that sane people wouldn't waste a single keystroke over, given the enormous effort that we all know goes into packages. It beats me why some developers stop themselves from throttling individuals who email questions like, 'Your plane doesn't land too good, every time I let the airspeed go below seventy knots it crashes, why haven't you fixed this?'
You think I'm joking, but that was a live one. Really. No wonder the guy had trouble with Boeings.
Modern freeware development is demanding, not only because standards are rising all the time, but also because the Internet makes it much easier for users to feedback. One of the reasons why we write these pieces is to promote freeware developers, who often receive very little recognition - for example, I would be surprised to hear if more than 1% of the simmers who have downloaded freeware have ever emailed their thanks to the people who spent so many hours creating it. Most user feedback over freeware is in the form of support questions, ranging from the sublime, 'My dad flies F-16s and he says your sim is nothing like them, you need to increase the rollout radius conversion factor by at least 31.67% to even get close to the way they fly'; to the ridiculous, like the guy above who hadn't heard about stalls. In between there are a lot of sensible questions, but if you ever wonder why developers sometimes leave no forwarding address, you know why!
Looking further down the Olsson hall of fame search, there is a gem in the form of the FS2002 Mirage F1 (F1V2.ZIP), which works well in FS2004 and has my vote if Kirk plans an update. (News flash--v2.5 for FS2004 is now available: F1V25.ZIP.) I can't think of any reason why the F1 hasn't been as successful as his F-16 beyond the fact that the latter is so much better known, because the Mirage is a great airplane, but the real star of Kirk's output, to my mind, is his North American T-2 Buckeye (T2BUCK.ZIP). As far as I can tell, this was first released for FS2000 and never updated, despite attracting over 4,000 downloads - it should have done even better, because it is a superb plane with a great color scheme and the Buckeye must have been one of the most distinctive designs ever sponsored by the US Navy. I can imagine Kirk's shoulders sagging when he hears this, but I would love to see an FS2004 version of this little terrier of a jet. Kirk has also done a two seat F-16, one of the most popuar files being VIPER2IA.ZIP, and if you search all the way back, CFS2 users will be pleased to learn there was a MiG 21 which has been repainted and repackaged several times, a good example being MIG21DP1.ZIP, which Chris Coarse put together.
As one of the most popular and most talented FS developers around, Kirk gets a salute from the FlightSim.Com team, as do all the people mentioned in this piece. If it wasn't for freeware, the FS scene would be much duller than it is today. The people we write about in this series are the life blood of this hobby - support them and make them feel appreciated and who knows what they will bring us in the future?Andrew Herd