Continuing on from our other content with developers regarding their recent releases, we turn our attention to Ultimate Ground Crew X. After many years of hard development, FS2Crew was finally able to release the product to the community last week. With plenty to talk about, we spoke to Bryan from FS2Crew who has given us an account of how development has been, the challenges faced and also reasons for the delays.
Please enjoy this behind the scenes look with Ultimate Ground Crew X’s developer, FS2Crew.
Q: What was the motivation behind making Ultimate Ground Crew X all those years ago?
Bryan: Initially, UGCX started off as a replacement for the built-in pushback mechanism in our FS2Crew line of products, you know, the ones that simulate airline crew interaction.
Well, at that time, our pushback apparatus was built on the default MSFS pushback system. It was a semi-okay system, but it was very limited and sometimes it did funny things like never stopping, and the turn rate during the turns was exceedingly slow in FSX and P3D.
So I said to myself, “We need something better than this,” and -presto!- the idea of UGCX was born. And here we are… five years later… better late than never!
Q: Let’s address the elephant in the room: GSX. There is no denying that both products try to provide similar experiences in the simulator. How does Ultimate Ground Crew X differ from GSX?
Bryan: Well, where do I start…
First, let me start by saying we have a tremendous amount of respect for the GSX developer. GSX is a good and mature product without a doubt. In my time as a developer, I’ve seen other developers bad-mouth and trash talk competing products, but that usually blows up in their face, so I’m not going down that road. I’m going to take the high ground here and not talk about Couatl.
That said, to make a long story short, the differences are like the old Ford versus Chevy debate. They’re both cars. They both go A to B. But at the same time, they’re different.
For starters, we offer “Voice Control” in addition to the standard menu interface, which we on the UGCX team refer to as “Menu Control”. That’s huge. Actually being able to speak to the ramp agent with your own voice will always be 1000 times more realistic than pressing a button. At the same time, we offer full multi-language support. An incredibly big thing is that German, Spanish and French users can actually communicate in their own language via microphone (or via menu control), and the ramp crew will speak in that language. So if you’re a German user at, say, Frankfurt, you can have a complete conversation in German with the ramp agent, just as you would in the real world. You’re not forced to use English all the time. Same with French and Spanish.
No other addon in FS history to my knowledge supports non-anglophone users the way UGCX does. This is a first in the history of FS. We really hope the German, French and Spanish speaking community appreciate the huge effort we putting into supporting their languages.
We also offer an extensive list of pushback customization options. The list is too long to get into here, but it’s comprehensive. UGCX gives you a lot more power and sophistication what else is currently out there. We also offer regional voice packs, so if you’re flying in the UK, the ramp agent will have a British accent. If you’re flying in Asia, he’ll have an Asian accent. We also do towing, custom routes, marshalling at the gate, engine start with no pushback scenarios, follow-me cars and a fire truck.
It’s a long, long list. And it will be getting larger as we release updates and progress down along our roadmap.
We’ve got some pretty big things planned for the future.
However, to be fair to GSX, the thing that GSX has over UGCX is that it also does the catering trucks and animated passengers. Those are pretty cool. We like them. We’re looking at doing that too for the future. We’ll see. That being the case, an important thing to remember is that you can use GSX and UGCX at the same time for the most part. You can keep using GSX for catering trucks and animated people. And then went you want to pushback, etc., you simply call UGCX. There’s no problem doing this.
Finally, a big difference is that UGCX is simply “new”. New is a quality in and of itself. People have been using GSX for a long time, but many people want something fresh to re-energize their Flight Simulator experience. Indeed, I’ve spoken to many people in the FS community and many of them want something new. We hear this all the time from users. I’m not trying to sound like some kind of politician who speaks in clichés, but a lot of people in the FS community simply want change.
Q: What sort of customisation will we see with UGCX in terms of branding, colours, etc?
Bryan: With UGCX, you have the ability to swap the UGCX logo found on the Tugs and Follow me car with your own logo.
We thought about including airline logos in our package, but then we thought about the possible legal issues of including copyrighted logos. Our legal department is much smaller than, say, American Airline’s legal department!
So if you want to add an Airline logo to your vehicles, you may do so, but you need to do it yourself via our Config Manager.
Q: Will we see any kind of community sharing features in the future? E.g. custom routes, custom logos, etc?
Bryan: An important feature in UGCX is its ability to create custom routes. You can actually create and save “custom pushback routes” for any parking spot at any airport.
These routes are saved on the user’s machine. If people want to share them around, there’s nothing stopping them. You could also share your custom logos.
Q: How can scenery developers (or those that like to make configuration files for scenery products) be able to interact with UGCX to ensure that their products work correctly with your product?
Bryan: They don’t need to do anything. We scan the scenery and go from there. Just try not to do anything too wild with the AFCADs.
Q: The development cycle for Ultimate Ground Crew X has been a long road for you and the community. What happened that resulted in the (excuse the pun) push backs? Did continuously having to work with new platforms mean changes to code and development cycles?
Bryan: My programming background is making the FS2Crew’s (the airline crew simulations). UGCX is a totally different ball of wax. Indeed, the only common ground between FS2Crew and UGCX is the Voice Control capability. So the learning curve was extremely high.
That said, the programming for UGCX was actually mostly contracted out.
And I’ll be straight-up with you: This is very, very complicated stuff. The physics involved in pushing and towing planes and get people to move around airports is extraordinarily difficult. We’re not simply putting the aircraft into ‘slew’ mode and moving them around by changing their LAT/LONG coordinates. We’re actually physically pushing them by injecting speed into the aircraft. And then we had to learn how to make human animations in FS. We went through numerous modellers. It took us a long time to find someone who actually could create a working human model in FS.
The thing to remember is that FS does not use the same modern animation techniques found in today’s games. FS uses methods that are years and years out of date, and most modern-day gaming industry modellers are thrown out of whack by the weird and whacky ways FS works. So just the technical challenges alone were mammoth.
And then we had another big problem: “Feature Creep”.
Remember when I said this started out as a replacement for the built-in FS2Crew pushback system? Well, my simple pushback replacement somehow morphed into this monster of a multilingual app with voice and menu control, custom this, custom that. We simply got carried away adding features. “Feature Creep” is a common problem in the software industry and we got hit hard by it.
But the biggest time impediment of them all? Let me tell you…
Good old fashioned “Love”.
My main programmer found a girlfriend… and he’d rather spend time with her than hunched over his keyboard!
Q: How did you continue to find the motivation to remain committed to the product despite the on-going delays?
Bryan: Motivation? Well, a lot of people thought UGCX was vaporware. I don’t blame them. But I said we were going to release this, and I have to live up to my word. My reputation was on-the-line.
So we soldiered on.
Q: What was one of the hardest things to develop for UGCX? How long did it take you to resolve and test?
Bryan: Pushback physics and human models without a doubt. Time… Years. Working with the multi-language side of the app was also experience. I really should have named the app, Ultimate “Berlitz” Crew X since you can speak multiple different languages with it.
Q: How does the future for Ultimate Ground Crew X look? Will you be publishing a roadmap or will you be considering community from the feedback?
Bryan: We already have a roadmap. It’s a long one. But we’re going to accept user feedback as well. We have some real-world ramp agents on the beta team, and of course, they know a lot of little nuances of the job that only they’d know because it’s their job. Many of their ideas will be going into future updates.
UGCX for us is a long term project. You’re looking Version 1.0 right now. Just wait until you see, say, Version 1.4 when we’ve had a chance to iron out all the inescapable little bugs and incorporate everyone’s feedback.
Q: How has your real-world experience helped with the development of UGCX? Did you have to rely on a lot of other experts to help craft the product together?
Bryan: I’ve never worked as a ramp agent in my life, so we have to rely on them for a lot of the little nuance stuff.
Like for example, in Germany, they don’t use Wing Walkers. I would never have known that… So we added an option not to have Wing Walkers if you don’t want them.
Q: Was there a moment in development where you sat there and had a beaming smile on your face? If so, what was it and why?
Bryan: It was the day we got the pushbacks looking good. I thought to myself… “Man, we can release this thing soon….” And then I posted about it on the FS2Crew Facebook page saying “We’re close!”
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
Bryan: Please enjoy V1.0 of the software. We’re going to be rolling out updates and new features as fast as we can.
This is a very complicated software. Integrating with the 100s of different 3rd party sceneries and airplanes out there (many of whom do not follow FS guidelines) is challenging, so if your Follow Me Car does something crazy, for example, just report in the forum and we can look at it. We have a very, very powerful logging facility, so tackling all the inevitable little weird situations should not be overly problematic for us.
We’re very open and receptive to feedback, so if you have ideas to make UGCX better, by all means please share them We welcome user feedback! In fact, we encourage it.
Lastly, enjoy UGCX! It was certainly a trip making it… and we hope you enjoy it!
And one more thing…
UGCX is our last FSX supported product. FSX, we salute you. You’ve been a great sim over the years, but it’s time to move on!