Welcome to Developer Month 2019. Between April 8th and May 8th 2019, we will feature a variety of developers, publishers, community personalities and more who will tell us their story. From written interviews and blog posts to video interviews and more, we have curated a range of interesting content to maybe even inspire you to be one of these developers in future years. Please enjoy Developer Month 2019 as much as we enjoyed putting it together for you.
We couldn’t have put together Developer Month without the support of all the developers & publishers involved. Also, huge thanks to Thrustmaster for their assistance in sponsoring Developer Month.
April 18th: Ben McClintock from Orbx
Ben is currently one of the core members of the Orbx team. Responsible for the current website, FTX Central application and more. Still young, Ben has worked his way to become one of the most valued members of the team, building innovative new products to help make installing and buying scenery a breeze – regardless of platform. Read how he got into it below.
Tell us a little about you and about what you currently do?
I’m Ben, I’m 22 years old and I live in Melbourne, Australia. Two years ago I graduated with a Bachelor of Computer Science.
At Orbx, I lead a small Melbourne-based team that manages our infrastructure and writes most of our internal and external software.
In real-world aviation, I’m currently working on my PPL at Lilydale Airport near Melbourne. I love using Prepar3D and X-Plane to compliment real world flying. If you’re someone like me who infrequently flies in the real world, keeping the various skills fresh is a great reason to fly in the simulator.
How did your passion for flight simulation begin?
When I was growing up, both of my parents used to be skydiving instructors during the weekend. Because of this, I spent a lot of time at the local airport, Taieri (there’s a great rendition included in Godzone’s Real NZ Dunedin scenery). That fueled a love of aviation.
At home, my dad always had the latest and greatest flight simulator installed on our computer (and he still does!). Then I discovered the world of freeware available on AVSIM and flightsim.com. That’s what really got me hooked.
What started your desire to be a software engineer? How did you learn?
When I was a lot younger, I started making very basic websites in Dreamweaver. Eventually, I started to learn how to make websites dynamic using server-side technologies like PHP and ASP.NET. During my last years of high school, I made a lot of desktop apps using technologies like Windows Forms and WPF (things like a ShareX clone, clipboard synchroniser, etc).
Most of my programming knowledge comes from reading tutorials, experimenting, and a tonne of Googling error messages. That’s not to say formal education isn’t useful though. There are a lot of exciting problems to solve during something like a university degree, which you wouldn’t think you’d need to know about until later on.
When did you decide that you could combine your love for simulation and web/software development?
After installing hundreds of add-ons from communities like AVSIM and flightsim.com, I took a keen interest in automating that process as much as possible. After talking a lot with Jon Murchison who ran flightsim.co.nz (ARNZX), I decided to make a tool to help people install repaints into their simulator.
The result of this development was ARNZX’s downloader tool. A single click on the website would launch the app, start downloading the repaint and install it into the simulator. It started with repaints, but there were plans to eventually allow installation of scenery and aircraft too.
What’s the story of you joining Orbx as a key member of their team?
Back in June 2014, I emailed Orbx’s general email address (email@example.com) with a proposal for a new website, with a few simple designs attached. I also explained how having a dynamic website could speed up the creation of marketing materials instead of manually creating each product page. In addition to the other improvements such as reduced page load time and SEO improvements (everything was an image on the old website, even text).
The original fullterrain.com designs I sent JV – I’m no graphic designer
John got back to me the next day with an offer to meet Ed Correia (Orbx’s Production Manager) to explore the possibilities of a new website for Orbx. In “The History of Orbx”, John went into a little more detail about this.
During that meeting with Ed, I showed him some other designs I’d made for FTX Central, along with some cool features we could implement in it (like built-in product updating):
My original design for FTX Central 2 on the left, FTX Central 1 on the right.
After that meeting, I started working on Orbx’s new website. In August 2014 we launched the new fullterrain.com and my responsibilities expanded to other projects at Orbx.
What are your primary jobs/projects at the moment with Orbx?
Right now our team’s primary projects are ensuring the OrbxDirect store stays online and can handle the load we throw at it. This is in addition to adding new features and fixing occasional bugs. We’re always looking at ways to improve our development workflow.
We’re also in the final stages of Central 4 development. This latest version has a tonne of improvements over FTX Central 3 (including macOS and Linux support). Expect an announcement on this very soon.
What was the inspiration behind the creation of FTX Central 3?
Once Orbx decided to leave FSS, we needed to remove all barriers to purchasing and installing products. We wanted it to be just as easy as Steam to install products: no more serials, no unwrappers and single-click install. In FTX Central 2 we had product updating built-in, it was a logical progression.
How do you use feedback from the community to improve the work that you do?
Ultimately, the community is a core part of the company. We have a very active community on the forum which is an endless source of ideas. I also lurk a lot in flight simulator communities on Reddit and Discord.
In terms of improving our work, a lot of frequently requested features have made it into Central 4 (we’ve also fixed a few long-standing bugs) – the team are very excited to reveal more of what we’ve been working on for the past 6 months.
If you have any feedback on any of our software, feel free to post them on the Orbx forum.
What is your current work environment like? How does it help you with your work-flows and development process? (please provide any pictures we can publish)
We have a few developers based in our Melbourne CBD office, we frequently show each other cool stuff we’ve made or features we’re working on.
Being able to show someone else a problem in person definitely helps when solving difficult problems.
If you were to go back in time and give yourself some advice on what you do today, what would it be?
It would probably be to work on more projects until they’re finished. I have a whole folder full of half-finished prototypes and concepts that really need some more time devoted to them.
What advice would you give someone looking to get involved in flight simulator development?
It would definitely be to read and understand the documentation as well as you can – both X-Plane and Prepar3D have comprehensive docs that will tell you how to do most things. After that, communities such as FSDeveloper contain a plethora of extremely useful resources.
Also, don’t underestimate the amount of work that it takes to develop something – start small until you’ve built up your skills, then go for the larger projects.
Thank you once again to Ben from Orbx for taking part. You can see all of the Orbx products on their website.
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Stay tuned as Developer Month continues tomorrow with REX Simulations