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 8th: A2A Simulations
How many people are on the core A2A team? Can you give us a brief overview of a little bit about them all?
There are around 8 of us in the core A2A Team. We have in no particular order;
Robert Rogalski – Artist
Michał Puto – Artist
Michał Krawczyk – Programmer
Scott Gentile – CEO/Owner A2A Simulations
Adam Mrowiec – Artist
Lewis Bloomfield – Manager
Nick – Installer Engineer/Customer Support
Mark – Web developer/Programmer
How did you (or the team) first get into development?
MikeP: It was and still is a hobby in my heart. I was a flightsimmer since C-64 days and my first flight sims were Fighter Bomber and F-18 Hornet for C-64. After buying my first Microsoft Flight Simulator (it was FS9) I discovered that I can build my own aircraft with included SDK! I started learning right away and some time later I released my first freeware aircraft for the simulator; it was Lublin R.XIII. I ported it to FSX sometime later. Together with my friend Lucas, we’ve released a few RWD aircraft for FSX. My next hobby project was SZD-30 Pirat sailplane. At this point I already knew some of the A2A team members and in 2010 when I started to look for something new to do I landed a full time position at A2A.
MichalK (some1): I was always interested in aviation and computers and I guess flightsims are the natural combination of those two hobbies. I started developing freeware projects for FSX and that caught the attention of Rob and Scott from A2A who wanted some coding job done for the upcoming 377 Stratocruiser. That evolved into a running cooperation and when I eventually got bored with my daily corporate job, I joined A2A full time.
Adam: It all started in early 1990 when I got an Amiga 500. As a kid I found out games weren’t just entertainment but an art form. From that point, I wanted to create my own characters, maps, weapons and vehicles for games but it had to wait many years while I studied art courses and practiced at my university. I worked various jobs at the time, but spent my spare time involved in modding communities where I learned from SDKs and modern game industry workflows. Eventually I made my first models, textures and GUI elements that had their use in games. It was an amazing feeling to complete a project for the rest of a team so I continued to develop skills and deepened my passion for the gaming industry. And following the latest advancements in design and shader technology is where and when my path crossed with one of the A2A member and was offered a full time position in 2016 working on PBR texturing.
Nick: I’m an A2A newbie and still a part-timer and my ‘day job’ is marine survey work. Often when I’m responding to posts on the forums, I’ll be bobbing around on a small survey vessel somewhere off the UK coast. I trained as a marine scientist at uni and my job involves marine biology, chemistry, and marine acoustics. However, I’ve also been into flight sims—on and off—since FS5.1. (Well, strictly speaking since Combat Lynx for the C-64, but that probably doesn’t count!) However, when I first discovered the Accu-Sim stuff, I felt I’d finally found my niche and becoming a member of the A2A team was another great opportunity which followed a few years later.
Mark: Art and game development has been a major part of my life since my youth. Growing up, I spent countless hours drawing and designing my own games. Some of my first experiences building computer-based games were in my teenage years, when I developed a deep love for computer programming and development with text-based games. I had a passion for building things with code, but I also held on to a deep love for visual arts. In college, I studied web development and graphic design, which allowed me to explore another area where the worlds of art and programming collided so beautifully. After college, I worked in web development for quite some time while also continuing to explore my passion for game development. I eventually received a fantastic opportunity to work with the A2A team and have loved every moment here. The passion of this team is unmatched and I am very thankful to be a part of it.
ROB: It was a passion for aircraft and aviation since I was a kid and later 3D art.
Lewis: As a kid, immediately after primary school (the one before high school) I would go straight to my Nan’s who lived the first house outside the school gates and watch the 1990 movie version of Memphis Belle. I did this daily until the VHS wore out. Watching and studying that movie got me fascinated with WW2 historic aviation. With a little help from an Uncle who was the family computer guy I got my first sim called Air Warrior and since then I’ve been hooked. From modding EAW with simple repaints to playing around making Unreal levels I was lucky enough to get noticed when posting on the early Shockwave forums and had a mini self-made portfolio ready to jump in. After working part-time for almost ten years, helping build the company up, I finally met Scott in person (he’s a lot shorter than I imagined) at our first year exhibiting at EAA Airventure Oshkosh (2014) and went full time later that year.
Scott: My earliest memories as a child was looking up and thinking there is no place I’d rather be than in one of those airplanes flying over head. Flight simulations allowed me to live this dream as a kid. My father was a private pilot but lost his license before I was born due to diabetes. He worked three jobs and now that I look back at it, I think the reason why I never pursued real flying was not only because it was so expensive but because deep down I don’t think I wanted to bring back a painful memory for my father. Looking back now, that was a mistake. He would have loved my having my pilot’s license as a kid and we would have gone flying together all the time. He loved airplanes, and so did I. Instead we spent many hours watching aviation documentaries and movies and me playing flight simulations.
In 1998 my father passed away and I used my inheritance to buy a 1978 Piper Warrior II. Being a working musician at the time, the maintenance costs were quickly unsustainable and I had to sell the airplane. I used my computer skills to start a computer company, eventually building networks for business in my state. We were successful but I still felt a lack of passion for it.
During all of these years, flight simulation was a love / hate relationship. In the beginning when I purchased a flight sim I’d get many hours of enjoyment before getting tired of it. Over the years it eventually became immediate disappointment after buying. I’m not sure if it was flight sims were getting worse or I was just getting more critical. But regardless, I found myself at a point where I was a passionate flight simmer without a sim to fly. I would call developers and ask them questions like “why can’t you make a good plume of smoke?” “Why do the terrain textures look so bad when viewed from down low?” “Who is making those engine sounds?” It occurred to me that the games were bad not because of any lack of technology but because those who were creating them just didn’t have the drive to make them what they should be. All I heard were excuses.
I eventually accepted that the flight sim of my dreams was not going to ever be made so I slowly crept into the business and figured out what I could do to help. This started in 2003 when I partnered with legendary programmer, Tsuyoshi Kawahito, making his visual effects for Strike Fighters. The response was so positive that I knew I found a home. The next step was partnering with Robert Rogalski and making FirePOWER for Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 3.
Are there any aircraft out there you would -love- to develop, but for whatever reason you’re unable to?
MikeP: For me it would be any racing/sport aircraft from 1920s. My personal favourites are Supermarine S.6b, RWD-5 bis and Bugatti 100p.
Adam: Private jets: Cessna Citation Series or lightweight Cirrus Vision Jet Gen 2. WWI/WWII era: Junkers Ju-52 or Henschel Hs 129 B-3.
MichalK (some1): One is my unfinished TS-11 “Iskra” project that started it all. I still have a sentiment for that little jet which in my opinion has one of the best lines of all the aircraft in the world. The other aircraft would be SR-71 Blackbird, for the sheer amount of awesomeness put into single airframe. It’s not necessarily an aircraft that I would like to fly in the simulator, but it sure would be very interesting to develop.
Lewis: A proper Accu-sim in-depth study level Handley Page Hastings or Hermes or Bristol Britannia, or,… I would love to see some of the golden age of British aviation birds from the forgotten era of props when jets were coming in. It would be great, but interest is obviously somewhat low to make such subject matter coupled with it not making much business sense. Maybe one day though, I hear the Hastings was a nightmare to takeoff.
Scott: Aerostar 600 and a delta-winged jet
ROB: No, already did He219.
You have a very unique way of announcing your aircraft to the world. Usually, most people switch off after 5 minutes of an announcement video. Why do you think people stay so glued to the screen with yours?
Lewis: We try to be different. Rather than pans of the aircraft via a view program like Chaseplane with some generic music building up. Some of our airplanes are also used for flight training so our videos also become a place to learn something. We can show nuances of the aircraft, its history, why it exists in the marketplace, and even some actual flying. Our videos often take months from initial concept to release. Scott shares the writing from the very start and it’s a full team involvement event. What he starts with rarely ends up being the final product as we all discuss things we like or don’t like about it.
Scott: The key is to have a product you are proud of first before making the video. The product sells itself really. We couldn’t make a good video of a product that didn’t excite us. So all we do is make the product we want and love, then just talk about it. As Lewis said, while I technically am the writer, presenting the ideas and examples to the team is like sending something through the grinder. The team typically shoots down 50% of what is shown to them. Currently, Rob has the title “grumpy” because he is usually the most critical, but Michal P occasionally steals that title. We thrive on criticism and that will never change. This is one of the most amazing qualities of this team, every person is subject to criticism. We all welcome and encourage criticism. We are a family and it’s never personal. It’s better to be a small part of something great than to be all of something mediocre.. The end result is always something much better than anyone could come close to doing alone.
Which announcement/aircraft video did you enjoy producing the most?
Scott: Probably the Comanche 250. Initially, I thought, since this was my airplane, the video would be easy. For some reason, I had a really bad writer’s block and was getting to the point of almost desperation. During lunch with a good friend Tom LeCompte, who also owns and operates a Comanche 250, I told him how I was struggling with this video. He looked at me and said “Scott, you are overthinking this. I would start the video with something like “This is not an ordinary airplane and I am inviting you to fly my airplane.” It was brilliant and that one line broke open to making the whole video.
Looking back on your previous releases, would there be anything you would’ve done differently?
Scott: Looking at each release, no. I suppose we are fortunate in the sense that each release pushes us to our limits and looking back at each one when they were released, we are at our end. In terms of other internal mistakes or errors, there were some things I would have done differently that could have helped us to reach the goals we had hoped for sooner. That is I suppose the cost / curse of aggressive R&D.
We can’t share details about the next steps in our technology because we want our stuff to be released in true relation to what else is out there.
There’s clearly an exceptional amount of knowledge about aircraft and the inner-workings. How did you one day think “how can I translate that into a simulator”?
ROB: This is rather not a matter of one day. The knowledge develops and builds with each aircraft we release. We always try to learn something new and add this to a new plane.
Scott: To quote Rob “a modeler must become an expert in the airplane he or she is making.” All of our artists are also technical and always deep in manuals, including the maintenance manuals. We all tackle specific areas and together can create a full airplane.
With Accu-Sim, there literally is nothing we cannot do. It just comes down to the cost of doing it. So the project is always a balance, revolving around what we can do within the time our business model allows.
What’s a typical development cycle for you?
Adam: Development cycle for me starts with research and material gathering. Thanks to Scott and his outstanding effort to get his hands on every single plane that we develop, I get dozens, if not hundreds of reference pictures, blueprints to work with.
The second part consists of modelling, texturing and animations creation. Everything, from general shape of plane, to tiny details need to be transferred to digital world of simulations. It has to look authentic and as beautiful as aircrafts are in real life. It can take from several months to couple years.
Later comes the “heart” of our planes, Accusim. This includes the engine, systems, switches, handles, avionics and their corresponding functionality and a flight model feel based on our own specific, in house flight testing.
Last, but not least are weeks of adjustments and bugfixes. Plane goes through series of “crash tests” where systems, visuals and other aspects are being checked by us and internal testers.
MichalK (some1): Reading manuals, coding, testing. Repeat. Have fun in the process.
MichalP: Sometimes I think I spend more time looking at photos, drawings and manuals than doing actual 3d modeling and texturing…
Scott: Historically we’ve managed to make roughly two airplanes per year. Learning from past experiences and streamlining the process works against the increased demands with improved technology. So, in the end, they seem to cancel each other out, though we are always pushing hard to shorten this development cycle. Currently, we are pinned down doing work for other entities, all of which we look forward to sharing with our community.
You share a lot of work from the community via your social media accounts – how important is the community to you and how do they shape your development processes?
Lewis: The community is the heart of our company. We were one of, if not the first, that had a true community based around our own products. We draw strength from pride in our community. What started as a pure support forum has over the years turned into a great sim community in itself, with experienced and new simmers, pilots, instructors and mechanics.
All of our support is transparent and out in the open and on display for everyone to see (we don’t hide technical support forums from the public without an account). We likewise don’t hide behind tickets and emails allowing us to access support from PC’s, laptops, tablets and phones to help people even when out of the office. It also allows some of the more common questions to be found quicker by the user with the question or for the wider community to easily be able to help one another out.
We love the community that has grown up around our products. It’s only natural to share community repaints and celebrate the work they do to make our hobby that much better. We always do our best to get people’s work noticed via facebook, twitter and Instagram. In turn, other community members have the means to say thanks to the generous modders and repainters.
Development wise the shape is often dynamic and always changing. Our beta team started as heavy community forum users. We pick them direct from our forums and they help shape the product with critical feedback during the sometimes long and heavy beta testing work.
Scott: Our server and online technology is a priority to us. Just recently our website, store and forum have been re-designed from the ground up. We even moved our servers to a much faster and more powerful place. And we spend almost endless time tweaking these technologies to make them work the best for our community. Mark is the core of this effort.
If someone was interested in possibly joining the A2A team or community, how could they get involved?
Adam: For 3D modelers, I’d recommend to start with smaller projects of objects that you are well familiar with. Make them from start to finish and don’t give up. Share your projects with friends, community, talk about them and ask for opinions. Accept criticism gracefully. Follow artists and game dev news and trends. Try to improve your skills by practice and learn a new one every day, but most important of all – have fun doing so.
Nick: Anyone is welcome to join our online community and we’re really proud of the friendly and helpful group of fellow flight simmers which has grown around the A2A products over the last 15 years. That’s quite a while, but I’m a fairly new member of the A2A team and I started off just by joining the forums around 5 years ago and contributing and helping out other members where I could. To be honest, I was always a bit shy about forums and things like that, but I’d encourage people to drop by, even if just to say “hello”.
Lewis: The community has always been key for us. We will always look to recruit from our community and this has worked wonders so far. Almost everyone at A2A have been recruited from the A2A community forums.
ROB: We have a dedicated branch for new independent developers: Aircraft Factory.
Scott: Whenever we need new talent we look to our community first. It feels like “keeping it in the family.” We know these people and they know us. If someone has been posting on our forums for a year or more, it makes hiring them that much easier.
Thank you once again to A2A Simulations for taking part.
Stay tuned as Developer Month continues tomorrow with FSimStudios.