FreeMeshX Interview with Daniel Moser
Conducted by Dominic Smith
Hi Daniel, thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed by FlightSim.Com. Could I begin in asking you where the original idea for FreeMeshX come from?
Hi Dominic! Thanks for your interest and reaching out to interview me. FreeMeshX was originally conceived initially as a small investigation into improving the terrain of Great Britain. I am actually not British, but I've been to England several times as part of my scientific career, and I've always been fascinated with its landscapes. Whether it was cruising through the English countryside on a heritage-line steam train, or hiking through the beautiful hills of Dartmoor, or perhaps from watching Braveheart too many times, I've always been mesmerized by its landscapes.
I began this small project with zero experience in scenery or terrain design. It started when I decided I should get a mesh to compliment my other terrain add-ons. I, of course, had looked into commercial options such as FS Global and FS Genesis, the big two names of mesh design (I'm not sure Toposim was around at this point), but the payware options were too expensive with respect to my meager PhD student stipend. Plus, I was more interested in spending money elsewhere. There were freeware options, but there were too scattered around the Internet into too many different packages, and usually the downloads were throttled to the point that it was just too unbearable to aggregate all the separate meshes together. So I looked into creating my own.
After a few tutorials, I realized Microsoft made it very easy to compile existing digitized elevation data for use in Flight Simulator. You simply need elevation data in a popular file format, the Microsoft FS SDK, and a configuration file with instructions for the SDK on how you want to compile the data. The result would be a .BGL file that you could simply add to the Scenery Library, and then fly around your newly generated terrain.
The project began to escalate rapidly. I started using ASTERv2 GDEM elevation data because of its fantastic global coverage and resolution, but I was unsatisfied with the amount of noise in the data which created far too many spurious terrain artifacts. I then found SRTM data (elevation data sampled by the Space Shuttle) which was much cleaner. And so I began to move beyond Great Britain into doing all of Europe with the SRTM data. Then NASA released their higher resolution version of the SRTM data, and I began building scripts to compile more of that data automatically over large sections of the globe. It just sort of snowballed, and I began to realize that perhaps the community would be interested in using some of this new, high resolution data as a mesh replacement. So we came up with a project name, and called it FreeMeshX.
How many members are in the FreeMeshX team?
The FreeMeshX team is currently two members strong. It consists of me, and my life-long friend David with whom I've bonded over our shared interests into aviation and other things. David titled our little group "Nine Two Productions" after our humble beginnings as a virtual tribute group for the RAF No. 92 squadron back in the days of Combat Flight Simulator and IL-2. David is mainly responsible for keeping tabs on our web site, www.ninetwopro.com while the mesh production and support is mainly my responsibility.
What were the reasons behind releasing FreeMeshX as freeware?
In our view, freeware is the foundation of the flight simulation community. For as long as I remember, content creators have shared add-ons in which they poured their love and passion into for the whole community to enjoy. This is the highest tradition of our hobby, and we greatly respect all freeware content authors who have preceded us.
With that said, we briefly considered the possibility of a commercial release as the project escalated, but ultimately decided not to for several reasons.
First, we are a new name to the community with nothing to show beforehand. Great development teams, such as those over at ORBX and others, are filled with big names that were once freeware developers. These developers had to build a trust and reputation with their audience before they went commercial. It did not feel right to immediately ask for cash as a newcomer, especially to a group that has been cheated by several snake oil salesmen, so we felt some ethical obligation to prove ourselves first if we ever decide to pursue some commercial venture.
Second, the legal responsibilities of maintaining a commercial enterprise were just too much for us at this point in our lives. I am up to my neck in scientific research, and David has a budding career in finance, so we both felt we needed to be settled first to properly maintain a business. There are other reasons as well. How does one protect against piracy? How would we pay for all the bandwidth (FreeMeshX is about 50 GB in size)? Would we have to go with physical distribution? There were just too many headaches involved, and we weren't in a position to appropriately support that enterprise.
Third, the existing competition is quite huge. How does one make a name for themselves in mesh design when the scene has been dominated by several companies for so many years? There was really only one option. Release our mesh for free, and if anything, just be satisfied that we were able to contribute something back to the community.