• Interview With Tom Curtis X-Plane Scenery Developer



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

    I don't remember the exact year but it was around 1997. I started my first scenery project when X-Plane 5 was the current version. My plan was to model my hometown airport so I could beat up the skies and fly through a few open hangars. There were no scenery tools available so we had to create all of the objects using a text editor. I would plot them out on a piece of graph paper, figure out what the XYZ coordinates were and then type them into a format that X-Plane could understand. It took forever to build something as simple as a small hangar. But after I built my "home-drome", I decided to expand my area to include most of southern California. Before I was done, I had 33 airports and I released the SOCAL Project as freeware -- 565 meg zipped.

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

    I've designed a few aircraft (I have a degree in Aeronautical Engineering) but I prefer to work on designing and building airports and the surrounding area. It's fun to look out the "front window" and see a realistic airport but I also find it extremely enjoyable to spend time just exploring the area. So that's why most of my scenery packages encompass a fairly large area, not just one airport.


    What do you consider your best or most popular work?

    From a tech point of view, my best work is usually my most recent project. I learn something new with each package I create. But to answer your question, I think my best work is my Golden Gate scenery package. The San Francisco Bay area is one of the most scenic areas in the world. Its rich history, numerous landmarks and bridges that almost everyone in the entire world will recognize, varied terrain, plus the fact that there are ten airports within a 20 mile radius make this package my most popular one. It has something to offer almost any pilot.

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

    I guess the most challenging aspect is to create a package that is as realistic as possible and still allow someone with an average speed computer to fly around the area and enjoy it. X-Plane allows a designer to customize almost everything within the sim. But X-Plane also forces us to live within a specific budget. This budget is not defined by money, it is defined by the number of triangles needed to build your package and also how many textures are required. So the biggest challenge is trying to make something as detailed and realistic as possible, but still keep it simple enough that it doesn't kill frame rates. I also have to keep in mind that my scenery most likely will be used by pilots who are flying extremely detailed aircraft that will also take large a large bite out of X-Plane's overall budget.


    What have been your favorite projects?

    My favorite projects are still my Canadian and Alaska sceneries. The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful area to explore in real life and developing these packages allowed me to visit almost all of the more than 300 airports that are included in Final Frontier, Inside Passage and Canadian Rockies packages. Also, these are still some of my most popular packages. X-Plane gives all of us the opportunity to get out and explore, and most of us find Canada and Alaska fascinating.

    What software packages and tools do you use to develop?

    I create most of my custom objects using AC3D. AC3D is easy to use and is still fairly powerful. I also use Blender on occasion, but while Blender is very powerful, it has a fairly steep learning curve. I find myself spending too much time trying to REMEMBER HOW to do something with it. So, to keep the frustration level down, I use AC3D whenever possible.

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

    Colin Klotzbach (Chimpy from the X-Plane Freeware Project) inspired me to get into scenery development. He released a Chicago scenery package for X-Plane 5 and after I saw what was possible, I was hooked.


    Do you develop payware/freeware or both and why?

    I started out developing freeware but recently have transitioned to developing more payware. I still enjoy releasing freeware and have several projects in mind for future development. The MAJOR one that really NEEDS to be done is WinterWorld 10. I first released WinterWorld for X-Plane 8, and then updated it for use with X-Plane 9. But developing a version for X-Plane 10 is more complex. I actually have a working version of WinterWorld for X-Plane 10, but the X-Plane team is still modifying their terrain art assets on a regular basis, so each time they change something, I have to go back and rework WW10 to make it compatible again. So for that reason alone, I think it is wise to wait until the default art assets in X-Plane are stabilized.

    Tags: tom curtis

    1. alpilotx's Avatar
      alpilotx -
      Fantastic interview as it gives away a little bit of the very interesting background of Tom. This is a good read, and Tom is a great developer!
    1. DominicS's Avatar
      DominicS -
      Many thanks Tom!

      Really interesting interview!
    1. JimKallinen's Avatar
      JimKallinen -
      Great interview Tom. Looking forward to seeing you once again this Oct.
    1. alterfux's Avatar
      alterfux -
      A very interesting interview and some superb sceneries for sure!
      Keep on with Your fantastic work!
    1. 5171's Avatar
      5171 -
      Great work! Great interview! I live in KSFO country and absolutely love the KSFO you made along with KOAK and surrounding area! Your credentials have definitely served you well ! Keep up the wonderful work you are doing and thanks for your contribution to our wonderful Org.
    1. Woogey's Avatar
      Woogey -
      Hello Tom, and thanks for everything. Your scenery, single-handedly sold me on X-Plane. I hail from the South Puget sound Area, and work for Boeing at KNRT. I wish I could contact you directly, I have a few questions about KTCM........ Preston
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