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Interview: Andrew Clements


Interview With Andrew Clements




When did you start developing for flight simulators and what got you interested in it?


I only started developing flight simulator add-ons when I bought X-Plane 9. After using X-Plane I immediately saw its potential for add-ons and started on my own. Prior to this, despite years of flight-simming, it had never occurred to me that I could actually develop add-ons! But as many will know, the X-Plane platform is full of great potential and has the added advantage of being backed up by an enthusiastic and helpful community. Back then, I had zero development experience, so there was a pretty reasonable learning curve to master but persistence pays off, and sometimes that's all it takes - persistence.














Tell us about the nature of your designs and what you do?


Right from the start I was far more interested in quantity over quality. There was/is a vast lack of 'plausible' scenery for X-Plane and this, combined with being a novice at 3D modeling and airport design, made my philosophy well suited to my abilities. So while I did the best I could, I didn't sweat the small stuff too much. Now I look back with a degree of embarrassment at my early efforts, but with the realization that those efforts were just steps along the way.


When I begin a project, I always try to replicate the scenery as accurately as I can, especially in regards to runways, taxiways and object placements. I then try to get the look and feel of the airport reasonably correct by adding a strategic scattering of scenery 'furniture' (cars, vans, belt loaders, fuel trucks, cones, static aircraft, etc.) so as to make the scenery less deserted looking (but without overloading the CPU with a huge object count).


I tend to model the passenger terminals, control tower and possibly an unusual or particular feature of an airport myself, then use OpenSceneryX and the X-Plane 10 libraries to fill in the remaining clutter.














It's not always easy to get an accurate look and feel of an airport, especially when you can't find photos good enough for the purpose. Makes it even harder if you've never visited the area in person. Having said that though (thanks to Google, Bing and numerous photo archives on the internet) it's never been easier to visit an airport...virtually.


What do you consider your best or most popular work?


Like other developers you've interviewed have mentioned, 'best' and 'popular' turn out to be different things. I really enjoyed doing the Colombian (SKBO, SKRG) and Malaysian airports (WBGG, WBGR, WBK, WMBT and WMPR) individually, but my standout scenery is YMML (in collaboration with the ISDG team) which was a long time in the works.


In terms of downloads, my XSceneryManager for Windows seems to be the most popular item in my collection.














What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of a project?


Finishing it! There are mountains of inspiration and room for creativity, but I really need to take on less things at a time. I am easily distracted so that's a challenge, and while I enjoy playing about with graphics, I'm no graphic artist so texturing 3D objects (especially large ones) is often where a project slows down a fair bit.


As far as a technical challenges goes, the X-Plane SDK is a goldmine of toys to play with, especially for a plug-in developer. This is a challenge I really enjoy, and although I haven't published any plug-ins yet, I have a few that may make an appearance one day.


What have been your favorite projects?


I'd have to say SKBO. The reason being, this was my first major airport to build and it was an enjoyable experience. As it turns out, the real SKBO has had a brand new terminal and ramp layout added so my scenery is out of date! YMML is spectacularly good and is the combined effort of the whole ISDG team. This scenery really made us up our game and is a fantastic effort by all those involved. Chris K (ISDG member) told me that he spent 5 minutes just watching the bus go around the YMML car park! There really is that much to it.














What software packages and tools do you use to develop?


For airport layout, I use World Editor (WED) which is built and maintained by Ben Supnik. For modeling buildings, static objects and animated objects, I use SketchUp (the free version) with Marginal's fantastic X-Plane plugin.


To make use of Marginal's Ground Traffic plugin, I use a little utility I wrote (GetGT) to extract coordinates from the WED data file. This makes it really easy to build and maintain traffic routes. I have also made an on-line tool so as to help with the coordination of the ISDG team effort.


Who would you consider to be your mentors or inspiration in the development world if you have any?


Sandy Barbour and Jonathan Harris have both provided a huge amount of quality work and expertise to the X-Plane community and without them, a lot of what is possible in the X-Plane world, would be impossible.














Then of course there's our very own team at ISDG, which consists of Chris K, Dr Ropeless, Skyflyer and Sethesus who are always tinkering around with X-Plane, looking for ways to improve it. Others include Dan Klaue, Jacques Brault, Andras Fabian and Philipp who have all generously provided insight and know-how to the community. There are some truly amazing developers in the X-Plane community who through their own generosity, donate their skill and time for the betterment and enjoyment of others.


Do you develop payware/freeware or both and why?


So far only freeware. It keeps it simple, free of responsibility and hopefully inspires others to contribute.














The Team

How many people work with your team?


Over the years, ISDG have had an army of individual contributors who've kindly donated their time and objects to our scenery. We also rely on some highly talented (hand-picked) beta testers who are familiar with X-Plane's lesser-known features and who provide insightful feedback. Currently the core team is Chris K, Dr Ropeless, Skyflyer, Sethesus and myself.


ISDG sounds like a great team. What does each team member do?


Chris K is the team leader and somehow manages to get everything working together in amazing detail.


Dr Ropeless is a master of ortho-imagery and his work is truly outstanding.


Skyflyer and Sethesus do a lot of the 3D modeling, building the things you first see when you pull into an airport terminal.


As for myself, I do a little of bit of modeling, develop tools and general bits around the edges.














Being a team with members from all around the world, how did you all meet, and how do you exchange ideas?


Chris and I were aware of each others work for quite some time but it was only when we began to PM (private message) each other that we really got to know one another. A while later, we both happened to be in the same location, so we met at a restaurant and talked shop! Yes, a Canadian and a Kiwi at a Chinese restaurant in Sydney. That's just how we roll! I then met Dr Ropeless and Skyflyer when we all happened to be in Adelaide one Christmas. We just have to get Seth to come down-under, but he's a pretty busy guy. In general though, we mostly communicate via a private forum and Dropbox, which suits our needs very well.


Real Life

Do you have any experience in real aviation?


Beyond the passenger seat? I'm afraid, not a lot. I would love to get my PPL one day, but I'm not sure when that day might be.


What started your interest in aviation?


Like many fellow simmers out there, I've always been fascinated by the dynamics of keeping a large lump of matter aloft, in spite of gravity!














I used to fly (as a passenger) to and from work in outback Western Australia. This was in a variety of GA aircraft, such as Cessnas (both the 210 and 402), a Piper Aztec and even a Piper Tomahawk. During these flights I occasionally managed (if I was lucky) to get a little stick time.


Maybe this is what helped spark my interest in flight simulation. Many years later, I was involved in designing a system that involved flight operations and cockpit mounted iPads, and had the opportunity to fly a 767 out of Melbourne for a joy flight in one of the airline's training flight simulators. Sitting in flight operations for several months reignited my interest in flight-simming.


Sitting in that motion simulator must have been some experience! How did it compare to using X-Plane at home?


Yes, it was one of those things I've always wanted to do, so it was a little bit like winning the lottery for me! Not the $20 million dollar one maybe, but you know what I mean. We also went into the A380 simulator, which being substantially newer, was even more awesome from an experience perspective, however we didn't get to fly it.














The 767 simulator is basically a real cockpit but as soon as you look out the window, realism ends. X-Plane's out-the-window realism is far superior. The A380 simulator is superior to both because you have the real cockpit, the real motion, and then the extremely realistic views out of every window. The sense of immersion is pretty much complete so it's very easy to forget that you aren't actually flying.


The great thing about using X-Plane at home is that you can fly anything, at any time, from any location. Don't we all love to roll out our favourite jet fighter from time to time, and go screaming through a mountain range at ridiculous speeds and altitudes? I know I do!


Any memorable flights in real life?


Being from New Zealand and now living in Australia, you get used to very long flights. Fortunately though (on long haul), nothing very memorable has happened...so far!


However, I remember once after landing at a dirt strip in a Fokker 50, the pilot ducking out of the cockpit, reaching under my seat, and then grabbing a fire extinguisher! He then disappeared outside in a great hurry leaving me and the other passengers wondering if maybe we should perhaps exit the aircraft!














Andrew, would you like to share with the readers, what you do in real life?


I work in IT - software development.


Apart from X-Plane, what other hobbies or things do you do for enjoyment?


Being the owner of young children, I figure I'm doing rather well to have one hobby.



How do you choose your next new design or project?


I'd say randomly. Often it comes about from just a suggestion, a request or even the next fly-in. I tend to avoid designing very large airports when it's a project I'm doing alone, because they are very time consuming, especially if you want to do a reasonable job at recreating them. For software development, it might be something I want to try, or it might be something I need so as to make things easier.














What simulators do you design for now and which ones do you plan to develop for in the future?


X-Plane only. At the moment I'm really enjoying being able to contribute ideas, scenery and little bits of software.


Andrew, I've asked this question to quite a few developers, but looking into the future, what key feature would you like to see implemented into X-Plane?


Hmm. The thing is, there is an awful lot of untapped potential in X-Plane. We see some very nice ideas implemented in Autogate, Ground Traffic, World traffic and in a few aircraft designs, but I get the feeling that time and skills permitting, there could be a lot more. However, it is difficult for scenery designers to tap into the API as most are not C/C++ developers. Lua may be an avenue for expansion there.


Being interested in the scenery design side of things, I guess something that would really liven up airports for users, would be to provide scenery authors with the ability to implement a standard set of animations to their objects. Something like "walking", "driving", "lifting/lowering" in addition to the current "rotating" animation we have already. I haven't really thought of the technicalities of this through but I'm betting the clever people at Laminar could bake this into X-Plane objects...somehow.














In what ways do you see development changing in the future?


Good question. There are many ways development can go, and a lot depends upon the paths taken by Laminar Research and those contributing to the tools that make it possible for scenery and aircraft developers to produce consistent and quality add-ons.


Scripting languages like LUA lower the bar of entry into making add-ons, and I think this really helps technical people (but non-programmers) with great ideas to explore and implement really cool add-ons for X-Plane. I think in the future that this will become an increasingly popular area for add-on development.


I think that perhaps the next step after Austin Meyers' "plausible world" - the catchphrase for X-Plane 10, will be immersion. A lot of effort is being put into making flight-simulation a more immersive experience, and a lot of the recent additions to X-Plane have been scenery and terrain related. So whether you use flight-sim for fun or for learning about flight, the whole experience is going to become far more realistic.














Your Thoughts

What can sites like FlightSim.Com do to support you and the hobby better?


I think flight sim forums should, and mostly do, concentrate on learning and the joining of minds on projects and ideas based around flight simulation. Web sites of this kind, must create a positive experience for visitors and old timers alike. Moderation is a difficult job but is really appreciated by the majority I would think.


Making people aware of the amazing efforts of aircraft and scenery developers, both payware and freeware really helps to generate a positive environment too.


I like the way FlightSim.Com is quite interactive with the flight-sim community through tutorials, forums and these interviews. Really just a case of "more of the same" I'd say!


How do you feel about the future of flight simulation in general?


Flight simulation appeals to a huge range of people of all ages but it's not something for the 10 minute attention span person, and it does help to be a little geeky. I was very surprised by Microsoft's decision to discontinue FSX and I think it's a real shame for that community to be left with a 32 bit product, especially when there was so much passion for the product, and for so many years too. However, I don't believe many flight-sim enthusiasts will be put off by that, and will continue on with X-Plane, Prepar3D or another simulator, so I think the future is good.














What are some of the most important things a site or community can do to help the developers?


Feedback is probably the number one thing. 500 downloads and no feedback is actually not a very positive experience. I think most, if not all contributors appreciate feedback, particularly positive/encouraging or at least constructive feedback. Almost every download added to a site is the result of a lot of time and effort (sometimes by a whole team of people). Developers need to know that it was worth the effort, and that the effort is appreciated.


Download sites need to (and usually do) provide a mechanism for people to leave feedback.


What would you like people to know about you or your team and work?


ISDG is group of people that share some common core beliefs. We believe that choosing to take on a task is choosing to do a good job, and that means researching, learning and listening to others. Making mistakes and rework is part of that too. We also believe in sharing - not that everything needs to be free, but that not everything needs to be priced.


Community is built on giving more than you receive, and with the X-Plane community we are still in debt. Finally, we believe in respect. We respect each other's opinions and respect the feedback we receive from outside of the team. Particularly important is that we respect the intellectual property rights of other developers - we deliberately spend a great deal of effort to ensure that we comply with each component license used in our work.


Andrew Clements

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