Welcome to the FSElite Developer Month. Our theme this year is about delivering for the community and part of that is delivering great content to you all. As part of our commitment to you all, we’re pleased to announced Developer Month – a month themed solely around celebrating our great development community. Over the course of March, you’ll be treated to some behind the scene looks at some of our favourite developers, stories from the FSElite team, exclusive interviews and more.
TFDi Designs have been on our radar for quite some time now. Mostly in part due to their development process of the 717. We’ve worked hard to provide updates of their 717 throughout development and provided you all with a fair and honest review. Since then, we know the team has been hard at work at ensuring they take on board the feedback to create an even better product. Josh from TFDi Designs was kind enough to sit down and answer some questions about himself and the future of the 717.
I am writing this on behalf of the whole team, some of it may be my personal opinion or written from my point of view.
Tell us a little about yourselves and how you got started?
We are TFDi Design. We are known for our ACARS tracking system called smartCARS. We also produce the TFDi Design 717, which was released in December. TFDi Design was formed in 2009 by Collin Biedenkapp and our Graphic Artist, Brandon Filer, joined in March of 2011. We began as a freeware effort, but quickly moved on to larger projects. For many people, it comes a surprise that our first major project attempt was in fact a 737. We learned very fast that there is a lot more that goes into a high-fidelity aircraft. With our lessons learned, we then sidelined aircraft development and began work on a modern and complex ACARS system. This would later be known as smartCARS and subsequently smartCARS 2. In between smartCARS 1 and 2 we began work on our 717 and spent the next 4 years working on it. I joined TFDi Design in mid-2015 after the release of smartCARS 2 to help the development team by relieving them from social media and tech support duties.
What made you decide you wanted to develop for Flight Simulator and why?
Flight simulator has always been a passion of everyone on the team. We all began playing flight simulator when we were young and many of us began tweaking and modify different things in the simulator to improve our experience within the sim. We had many ideas and thought others would enjoy them, so we formed TFDi Design.
How many of there in your team and what are your backgrounds before becoming developers?
There are 5 of us on the day to day team. Collin Biedenkapp dabbled around with modifying freeware planes. Brandon Filer spent time before developing flying on flight sim and enjoying aviation. I (Joshua Mendoza) worked 2 years as IT for my school and ran a few VAs. Martin Becker, worked as a Director/Manager for several companies. Brandon Olivo worked with sound engineering before working on the 717.
What interests do you have outside of Flight Simulation?
I can only speak for myself, but I enjoy filming and helping my friends with their cars. My brother recently built a Jeep with the help of several family members and friends that ended up on the floor at the SEMA Auto Show in Las Vegas. I am also a Disney fan myself and enjoy reading the history of the parks and visiting them often. If you’d like to hang out at Disneyland, let me know.
Why did you decide to bring the 717 to the community?
It was a modern version of the famous DC-9 that was missing from the flight sim market.
What tips can you share with us about the development of the 717?
One of my favorite parts of the development of the 717 was our transparent development process. We always enjoyed having the community joining us for test flights and development days. This level of transparency allows for interested people to ask the developer directly about the project and involves the community in the development process.
Tell us what your typical day is usually like.
I begin the day by opening up our support queue and calling either Collin or Brandon F. We usually begin discussing work and progress that is being made. I review my tasks that are assigned to me on our project management tool called Asana and begin focusing on that. This takes up a portion of my day and I usually have meetings with our clients throughout the day. Towards the end of the day, the team usually clocks out at around 8-9PM and we play some games together, like GTA V, Arma III, or Battlefield.
There’s a consensus among some people that the 717 was brought out too early. What would you say to those people to change their minds?
We made a promise to the community that the 717 would be brought out in 2016. We believe our word is extremely important and when we say something, we will do it. We had been testing the aircraft for the months leading up to release and had a full testing team working leading up to launch. Much of the plane was done and you could complete a full flight without major issues. It is hard to get a full-scale test done unless you do a full-scale launch. Some game breaking issues were brought up immediately following release, but we addressed them in patches following shortly afterwards. We are adding more in depth features going forward and the product will be improving day to day.
How have you used the feedback from the community to improve the 717?
We use the suggestions and feedback made from the community to improve the aircraft. Each bug and suggestion submitted to our tracker is added to a list for review and reviewed by the team to see the possibility and feasibility of it. Bugs are added to our Asana board to be fixed and released in a later update.
Favorite power drink and why?
There is a local coffee shop that has a brand called Blue Rebel that is amazing. They can mix any flavor you can think of and I typically ask them to surprise me, since different employees have interesting mixes.
Who’s your biggest inspiration in the Flight Sim community?
That’s hard to answer, the different companies within the flight sim industry are all very unique. I don’t think we inspire to be like another company, rather we push to what we believe is the best that we can be.
If there was one thing you wanted to see developed for Flight Sim, what would it be?
I’d really enjoy seeing a true volumetric cloud add on for the ESP engine. The current cloud sheets we have shown their age and is one of the eyesores of the ESP engine.
Favorite add-on (that’s not your own!)?
I enjoy George Keogh’s Hawaiian Airports. This is an amazing freeware scenery and pickups where FSDT left off, filling in the rest of the airports on the islands. You can find them here: https://library.avsim.net/search.php?SearchTerm=hawaiian+airports+part&CatID=root&Go=Search
Your version of shared cockpit is one of the best within the flight sim community. Why was it so important to make sure you included it in the 717?
Our team has always enjoyed shared cockpit experiences. A true flight has two pilots, so why wouldn’t you want to simulate that? This is a feature that is lacking in quite a few airplanes that makes it hard to fly with your friends. Flying with friends is one of our favorite things to do.
Do you often do a shared cockpit flight among the team?
Yes, we do, quite often! It is a great way to test our aircraft when we are making changes to it and checking that shared cockpit supports/handles the changes properly.
What’s next for the 717?
Plenty of updates and new features, stay tuned to our change log. Right now, we are adding features to CDU and focusing on the parts of the flight computer that were lacking prior.
Where do you see Flight Simulation in 10 years’ time?
I would hope to see the community continue to grow, especially with the younger audience. A diverse set of sims or at least a new ESP version would be wonderful, using modern technologies like a current generation DirectX and a new lighting engine.
What do you do for downtime after a busy development period?
I usually drive to Disneyland and spend a day in the park, or head up to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. I also enjoying buying a new game and playing through the story. I recently purchased and played through Portal 1 in one sitting, going to play Portal 2 soon.
Anything else you want to add?
I appreciate the support from the community, there have been a lot of lessons learned. We are working hard to bring the 717 to the next level of fidelity and appreciate the patience and support.
Check FSElite tomorrow where we find out a little more about Drzewiecki Design.