In our flight simulation world the majority of the emphasis is on the view from the pilot. It’s not often we get a glimpse behind the scenes at a busy international airport where ground crews keep those jets fuelled, powered and perhaps most importantly: on time!
A number of add-ons try to add this to the experience to our flight simulators, adding ground equipment, tugs, passenger unloading, even individual passengers taking their seats during boarding. These go some way towards showing airport operations taking place, but what would it be like to actually take control? Well, AirportSim by MS Games Studios lets us do just that!
MS Games Studios are situated in Warsaw Poland and have been developing games since 2018. Their CEO, Mateusz Stabryla, has an interest in flight simulation and is also CEO of the scenery developer MK-Studios, it is this interest that inspired the development of this new game.
I met with Game Designer Krzysztof Stabryla who is working extensively on this project. Krzysztof has been with MS Games for about 2 years and is developing the game logic, vehicle physics and the mechanical animations for AirportSim, all of which add to its realism.
We started talking about airport simulators generally. Krzysztof told me MS Games felt there was still a niche for ground handling simulators and although there are other attempts at similar games from other developers, AirportSim is completely new and takes a different approach. Rather than being completely first person, AirportSim allows the player to interact with all objects, opening doors, driving vehicles, loading fuel and can do so in a mix of first and third person game styles.
So how did they go about making this? Krzysztof explained that realism was important to them, and he (as well as other team members) has personally gone through thousands of pages of documentation to make AirportSim as realistic as possible, but that was not all. Krzysztof was keen to point out this was not just research and reading, but about their partners. MS Games have worked alongside big names like Airbus, TLD Group and Welcome Airport Services to make this game possible. These partners provided detailed information to make it as realistic as possible; Airbus with information for the aircraft model, TLD Group providing data on vehicles for ground handling such as pushback tugs, luggage tractors and mobile stairs.
AirportSim has a Discord server where the developers interact with the community. The server has over 300 people following. Krzysztof was keen to recognise that many within Discord were ramp agents. They’ve been volunteering information and advice, showing a lot of support to the team and building the buzz around the AirportSim release.
Welcome Airport Services, the largest airport handling firm in Poland have been particularly helpful. Supporting developer visits to airports to see operations first hand. Krzysztof even had the chance see vehicles get up close during live operations.
The above combined with a highly active and supportive community of airport handlers within their Discord channel gave Krzysztof and the team the opportunity to really make something ‘as real as it gets’. However, Krzysztof was keen to stress that realism is one thing, but we actually want to have fun playing this game. It’s here for entertainment and for players to enjoy either on their own or as part of a multiplayer scenario.
It needs to be fun, there is a balance to be struck between deep simulation and gameplay enjoyment.Krzysztof Stabryła – Game Designer
Let’s talk gameplay!
Krzysztof fired up AirportSim and we were presented with an animated 737 Max landing behind a menu. The plan was to walk through a scenario and chat about the features as we went. We dived straight into a pre-prepared scenario called “Quick Turn Around Procedures” as it was a good way to showcase the main features of AirportSim gameplay.
Upon loading we were presented with a visual of Vagar Airport (EKVG) in the Faroe Islands, as if we were standing on the apron. Looking now at the images online and what I saw in the game the modelling was right on the mark.
We paused here to look and talk about the visuals. Krzysztof explained that the experience within MK-Studios was critical, but the AirportSim team needed to take those visuals to the next level. Higher resolution was needed because the player is much more engaged with the airport scenery and vehicles. They’re not only doing this for Vagar, but for other airports too; Keflavik Airport, Warsaw Chopin Airport and Key West. Keflavik was especially challenging, and the team very comprehensively modelled it within AirportSim.
Then there was the high-resolution aircraft model of the 737 Max on the ramp currently sporting the AirportSim livery. Krzysztof told me they plan to release the aircraft models onto steam so players can create their own liveries and release them as mods.
The next piece was the weather, and to look at this we pulled up the in-game tablet. This shows weather, maps, schedules and tasks for completion; a control very similar to that in a flight simulator. The player can change cloud coverage, precipitation and its intensity, and more. Once made these changes are then actioned in real time and are not just cosmetic but impact how vehicles drive, causing skidding and so on, the player needs to be careful not to incur penalties!
So now we have an aircraft to service and a set of tasks, I guess we better get to it!
Secure the Aircraft
The first stage is to secure the aircraft, so out come the chocks and cones, giving us a chance to see the dynamics of the game at play. You can do as you please, either place cones directly into position or get more ‘efficient’ and ‘throw’ them into position. Once secured we’re ready to get started.
Attaching the GPU
The player then has to collect the tractor and connect it to the GPU, then tow the GPU into position. The GPU cables are then connected to the aircraft external power point. The animation here was fantastic, and accurate! The player must press the three buttons to open the latch and expose the connection point for the cable, all of which is as it is in the real world.
The panels on the GPU are accurate and replicate real functions. Such as the requirement for the engine to warm up before it can provide power (something that can be skipped for the impatient). Krzysztof mentioned that the more modern GPUs have touch screen panels, but they decided to model something older, most likely to provide the player with more interaction and sense of immersion.
After warming up, the power on the GPU was switched on providing external power to the aircraft. Krzysztof pointed out that they’ve actually incorporated the APU into the plane too, meaning that once the GPU is running and providing power the APU will shutdown. The detail was impressive, Krzysztof said that they’re working on having the player power cables to connect them, making the positioning of the GPU important because the cables aren’t long!
We drive back the tug, being careful not to run over the cables from the GPU (yes, you can do this), to collect the passenger stairs. As with the tractor and GPU the air stairs are well modelled with adjustable height to allow for larger aircraft. Changing their height isn’t just visual and affects the vehicle physics, shifting the centre of mass, which can make driving tricky!
Getting close to the aircraft, indicators on the vehicle dashboard allow the player to know if they’re positioned properly. Once done the stairs are secured with stabilisers and the player can walk up to the aircraft door and open it. Krzysztof said they’re currently working on the animations for passengers, and on release these will be in place showing passengers leaving the aircraft and walking down the stairs.
The Luggage Cart
Next it was time to collect the luggage, this means collecting the tractor and luggage carts. Depending on the weather these may need covering and tarps are available for placement on the carts. Even the physics of the cloth was modelled when creating the animation which is fluid and convincing.
Driving up to and opening the cargo door initiates luggage leaving the aircraft which is collected by the player for placement in the carts. Krzysztof pointed out that they’ve already modelled a belt loader, and this will be the means of getting luggage out in the finished game.
The belt carrier was fully functional and driveable with a working conveyor. Again great attention to detail, if luggage is not handled with care it can break open spilling passenger belongings all over the apron. Luggage is then taken to the terminal by the tug. There are conveyors inside to take the bags to the collection area. As with everything in AirportSIm these are all working and will take the luggage to the passengers within the collection area.
Krzysztof told me I should check out some of the image of their modelled Keflavik Airport baggage area, a much more sophisticated model.
MS Games have provided us with some exclusive images of AirportSim, not yet released.
Within the game there is a tablet that is the main source of information for the player, showing flight information such as arrivals and departures as well as your tasks (you’re not responsible for all aircraft in the schedule). Those not under your management will be visible and have simplified automated handling adding to that immersion factor.
The tablet also forms a navigation aid, showing a map of the airfield displaying vehicles and routes the player must take; a sort of “GPS” to help navigate around, especially useful for the larger airports.
The tablet also contains a set of built-in scenarios to choose from, but players can create their own and share those with the community if they wish. Custom scenarios allow players to add aircraft to the schedule and can even build multiplayer scenarios, dividing up tasks. There will also be a set of challenges incorporated for players to tackle, allowing for some ‘friendly’ competition.
No game would be complete without a scoring system; remember the tarp for the weather, skidding tractors in the rain, not bumping into the plane or running over the GPU cable? All of this will impact your scoring which is made up of player efficiency and accuracy. The faster and more accurate you are, the better your score!
So What’s Next?
Krzysztof explained that the team are now finalising some newer game features and AirportSim is currently “pre-alpha”. Considering the not quite 1 year of development time with an estimated release Q2 2023 that’s pretty good. The focus right now is to complete the game and get it out to the players, then future plans can be thought about.
MS Games have their own website https://www.msgames.pl/ where you can go to learn more and get the latest news. They’ve also got presence on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook.
AirportSim can be found on the Steam Store, showing the planned release date of Q2 2023. Upon release, AirportSim should be available for both PC and Xbox. MS Games will also be taking part in Steam Next Fest starting 6th February 2023 where they will make the official demo for AirportSim available.