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.
May 2nd – Misha Cajic From Orbx
Misha, at one point, was one of Orbx’s youngest developers. Developing scenery since the age of 14, he has since gone on to create some outstanding airports for simmers to enjoy. With such experience and knowledge under his belt already, how does he remain motivated and keen to continue making products for the simulator? Let’s find out in today’s Developer Month.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.
I’m a 20 year old student born and raised in Sydney, Australia as a first generation Aussie – both my parents are from Former Yugoslavia. I’ve been a developer at Orbx for nearly 6 years, and have been developing scenery for even longer than that. Apart from all the work I do there, I study computer science full-time at the University of NSW, currently in my third year, and have created quite a few of my own applications – I have pretty big dreams for what I’d like to do with all the stuff I’ve learnt through my studies and work 🙂
Hobbies include finding cool places to eat, travelling, playing guitar and recreational flying. Here’s a picture from a flight I did down Sydney’s coast only a couple of days ago – it was a perfect day for it.
How did you get involved in flight simulation?
Over 10 years ago my dad brought home a copy of FS2002 from a workmate of his (well after FSX had been released). I was already obsessed with planes and naturally started using it all the time. Eventually I got my hands on FSX about 3 years later, as well as a slightly better computer to run it on. I started to hoard a multitude of freeware add-ons, and buy a few here and there with what little money I had as a tween.
Do you remember that moment where you thought “I want to develop products for flight simulation”?
Back in 2011 I came across Orbx, and was floored by the quality of their stuff. I started to get involved with their community, as well as the OZx community that provided many add-on’s for FTX Australia. I definitely did to an extent see the developers at Orbx as some sort of stars, and when by pure coincidence someone at OZx suggested that some forum members band together and learn how to develop scenery for release through OZx, I naturally jumped on to try and maybe one day be one of those ‘stars’ 🙂
I was quick to learn a lot of the tricks with the invaluable help of two guys from Orbx, Alex Goff and Ken Hall (I’m still in contact with both), and soon enough was making some half decent-ish freeware scenery. It was quite a feeling, seeing people downloading and enjoying something that I had made!
What was your first product and what was your development experience like?
9 months after I had begun to dabble in scenery design, Ken suggested that I should make a payware product. At first, I thought I was way out of my depth, and didn’t think I had the know-how to do so. I had really wanted to work on making some rural airstrips in Orbx’s PNW region, so he said I should make a few of those and release them as an inexpensive payware package. I did exactly that, and spent about 6 months creating my own libraries and models for what ended up being MCA Designs North American Airstrips Volume 1 – obviously, there was never a Volume 2.
It was a huge challenge building my own resources from the ground up – navigating marketing, licensing, resource acquisition – but it gave me heaps of new skills that really helped me improve myself. I eventually realised that to keep this up would be unrealistic considering I was still in the middle of high school, so I sent my application into Orbx.
What is it like to work for one of the most renowned publishers in the industry?
I was obviously ecstatic when I first joined Orbx, after all, these were more or less my idols. But past that, it made developing my products far easier with the access to libraries and other development resources. The expanded network of developers I had access to was another huge bonus.
Orbx is still a relatively small company, so I’ve managed to personally meet and hang out with most team members, as well as bring on a few new ones myself. Many of them are close friends of mine now, and Orbx is a partnership far more than it is an employer. I have complete freedom over my project choices, the deadlines are self-set, and the risk is mostly still on me when it comes to whether a product will do well or not. I guess one thing is that I definitely don’t see other developers as stars anymore – they’re just very specialised artists.
Do you feel a lot of pressure for the products you produce?
To an extent – with all the new tech being added to P3D, I do sometimes feel that I might be falling a bit behind. I’ve tried to keep up as much as I can though, and this will be reflected in the new projects I’ve been working on. The most pressure is probably self inflicted, I have to make sure that each product I make is at least as good, preferably better, than the last. However, the other side of that is that I develop products to my own standards, and don’t like to fulfil every request or expectation that community members have if it doesn’t fit those personal standards. At the end of the day, I’m doing this because I enjoy it, and whoever likes my work will get it. And hopefully, that’s enough people for me to justify all the time I put into it!
How have you refined your skills over the years? Was it support from other developers, practice, etc?
A lot of my improvement came from simply doing many projects, acting upon feedback, and exploring new techniques myself. However, I cannot understate the contribution of other developers that have helped me improve over the years. I’m ever grateful for how generous other developers have been with their time when it comes to helping me out. As I mentioned, in the early days much of the help came from Alex and Ken, who enabled me to improve my quality from freeware hobby level to payware professional level. Nowadays, I probably speak to Jarrad the most within the Orbx team – he’s always been super generous with his help and I owe a lot to him.
Who, in the community, is most influential to you and why?
I honestly think that many scenery developers have similar answers to this question – it’s really easy to see which developers stand out and are the best of the best.
Outside of Orbx, Mir from FlightBeam, the FlyTampa guys (Vegas – wow), and 29Palms are the ones that consistently gobsmack me with the stuff they put out. I’ve also had the pleasure of spending time with Mir on multiple occasions, a great guy to hang out with.
Within Orbx, there are so many talented people that put out amazing stuff. Jarrad, of course, consistently comes out with work that just blows my mind – I think he lives on a planet with 100 hour days considering how quickly he comes out with these huge products of such high quality. And of course, people like Tim, Ken, Alex, Marcus, Rasha, amongst others, all put out pretty amazing stuff. I take a lot of ideas from their projects and try to implement them in my own.
You’re still incredibly young yet poses a lot of talent. How did you motivate yourself to learn such a skill set at such a young age?
I find it incredibly easy to learn something quickly if I thoroughly enjoy doing it. Scenery design was something completely new to me, and I got hooked on learning how to use all the tools I needed to do it. I also didn’t really have anything else to do – I was in the middle of high school and I was never big on socialising back then, so it made it all the more easier to spend hours and hours after school learning to pull all the ropes.
Even nowadays, the same applies. Scenery design is my ‘job’, but since it’s completely flexible, I’m able to spend a lot of time learning other things that interest me a lot. I have a new found love for software engineering, business, and guitar, and spend many hours learning as much as I can.
How do you balance your other life commitments to product development?
Badly. I’ve never been great at making a timetable or calendar, so I usually end up neglecting one or the other. If I’m in the zone developing my scenery, I’ll sit and do it for hours and hours on end, and get a huge amount of work done – towards the final stretch of developing Santa Barbara, I spent one day working almost non stop from 11am till 6am the next day, only taking ‘essential’ breaks to eat and stretch (I do not recommend this at all). If I’m doing other things, like uni work, seeing friends, etc, then it’s possible for me not to touch scenery design for a bit too long.
This doesn’t always work well for me, it would be much better if I was able to split my time more effectively – that’s something that I have to work on.
What technology right now excites you most in flight simulation and why?
The rise of VR is probably one of the best things happening for flight simulation, it’s the perfect medium for it. It make the experience that much more immersive and real. Past that, new P3D features such as PBR really make textures in the sim pop, and I look forward to playing around with it in my projects.
I personally don’t sim much anymore, since I just don’t have the time. On the development side though, the wider availability of open source GIS data has got to be one of the biggest time savers that has come up recently. It cuts the most boring and time consuming parts of development from months of work down to literally days. I’ve been trying to get to grips with that as much as I can recently, since it’s definitely worth the time investment of learning it.
What advice would you give to someone who may be starting out as a developer?
Development is very rewarding. There’s no better feeling than seeing all the components of your project come together, and seeing people buy and enjoy your product. It’s a long creative process, but if you do it well, you end up with something that you can still go back to years later and be proud of.
However, it is very hard. The easiest way to quit developing is by starting big. If your first project is LAX, chances are you’ll never even get close to seeing the end of it. You have to begin with smaller projects while you learn all the time saving techniques and improve your style. Set small goals for yourself that you can reach in the short term. Always expect to spend more time on your project than you originally anticipated. The initial learning curve in particular is very steep, so you have to make sure the projects you’re working with are a manageable size.
If you aren’t enjoying the creative process and aren’t proud of the work you’re creating, and you’re only in it to make a ‘quick’ buck – stop. Trust me, it takes years to pay off financially, and if you aren’t enjoying it, you won’t last long enough to see that day.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The flight sim SDK is very hard to navigate, and it’ll be hard for you to get ahead if you don’t have someone to tell you what the most important bits to know are. Most developers I’ve talked to are always happy to help, and share their knowledge with others, myself included. You’ll definitely make a lot of mates along the way!
Thank you once again to Misha from Orbx for taking part.
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Stay tuned as Developer Month continues tomorrow. Sergio from Helisimmer takes up the hotseat next.