Over the past few months, you may have noticed a new store appear called Contrail. This new store, developed by Lars from 29Palms Scenery Design, is both a point of sale and also an application for customers to download and install products. Over the years, Lars has had an obsession with creating stunning scenery and easy-to-use configurator tools, and so, the Contrail App was a natural evolution for him.
In our extensive interview with Lars, he tells us exactly what the Contrail App is and how the new marketplace will support developers and the community access their products. The store is already populated with top-tier names such as Flightbeam, Aerosoft, LatinVFR and has recently introduced Verticalsim into the mix. More developers and products are to come in the future.
In addition to our interview with Lars from 29Palms, we’re pleased to work with Contrail to offer FSElite readers 25% off their first purchase with Contrail. That means you can pick up a product from the likes of Flightbeam, LatinVFR, Aerosoft and others at a discounted rate. Simply use the code FSELITE at the checkout, or by clicking this link.*
Further to Contrail, we spend some time asking what the future of 29Palms looks like and what future scenery products we can expect to see in the future. Thanks to Lars for taking the time to tell us more about Contrail and we hope you enjoy the interview.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and what you’ve done in the past for flight simulation?
My name is Lars Pinkenburg, a 29-year-old aviation nerd from Hamburg, Germany. Some readers might know my work under the “29Palms” brand which has been established in 2010. Over the years we have released a couple of airports for FSX and Prepar3D such as Nuremberg, Twentynine Palms and the Greek islands Mykonos, Samos and Skiathos. Besides our own projects, I have also collaborated with FSDG, Orbx and Limesim on projects such as Sharm-El Sheikh, FTX Germany and Southampton airport, just to name a few.
How did you get involved with flight simulation? What’s your earliest memory of using a simulator?
I got involved with flight simulation thanks to my uncle who lived on the small German island Wangerooge back then, close to the airport which is served daily by Britten-Norman Islanders. Marcel Kuhnt, the developer of OMSI (bus simulator), is a close friend of the family and was working on a very detailed replication of the Islander for flight simulators back then. My uncle tested the latest builds regularly and when I went to visit him, I could try a few circuit patterns as well.
At that time I was already hooked and had FS2000 installed on my computer, followed by FS2002 and FS2004. I remember doing around the earth trips with a Learjet in real-time and got quite mad when a friend of my sister disconnected the autopilot by moving the joystick and the plane crashed.. it was all about realism for me, and having to restart a flight (also due to regular CTDs) was my worst nightmare!
My earliest memory however is trying out FS95 at a friends house. I don’t remember why he got it, maybe it was his fathers. We flew around Meigs Field (of course).
What is the Contrail App?
The app can be described as a “direct developer marketplace”. You can connect multiple shop accounts to it. After connecting an account, the products you own will be activated and can be downloaded, installed and configured. Once connected, new purchases either placed via the in-app checkout or the webshop itself will be activated automatically.
Activation by serial number acquired from other marketplaces such as Simmarket is also supported.
So in its essence, the Contrail app is a digital distribution service that allows users to purchase, install and manage products without needing to leave the app.
How is this different from other stores and applications currently out there?
The biggest difference is the ability to connect multiple shops instead of just one. Many developers are running their own shops and I have often read comments throughout the community over the years, encouraging people to purchase directly from the developers which benefits them the most (they don’t have to pay royalties to publishers). But as a developer, you then have to take care of creating installers, anti-piracy measures, file delivery and a serial number / activation system on your own, which is a lot of work and might sometimes not be the most user-friendly way of doing things. For instance, if you are not running a global content delivery network, customers from the other side of the globe might have trouble downloading their product.
So the idea behind Contrail was to offer a unified solution for all of these challenges a developer might face, while still allowing the developer to keep selling on his own shop.
We have recently launched the Contrail Webshop where all of the products are available as well. This is the primary solution for customers, who like to have all of their purchases in one account, as well as for developers who aren’t running their own shop and still like to benefit from everything the app has to offer.
This might seem to contradict the main idea behind the app, purchasing directly from the developers. But I can assure you that the commission for the usage of the whole system is well below the industry standard.
You’re known for your work with scenery development under the 29Palms banner. Why did you shift focus to creating Contrail?
Even my very first payware project, Phenick Field for FS2004, had a Configurator included, followed by all other projects. Back then, the Configurators were very simple – basically, a background picture with hardcoded checkboxes and radio buttons layered on top. It was a lot of fun coding these and a highly requested feature since flight simmers always liked to configure sceneries for optimal performance. As probably every flight simulation enthusiast knows, the fight for more frames per second is as old as flight simulation itself.
The Configurators evolved over time, now instead of one Configurator per scenery, we combined scenery configurations in one app, the “29Palms – Configurator”. This app was able to read scenery configurations dynamically and was eventually licensed to many developers, such as FlyTampa, Imaginesim and Flightbeam.
The “Flightbeam – Manager” was the first version that allowed users to activate their products by log-in instead of serial numbers.
The evolution of the configuration tools.
The next logical step after combining many products in one app, was to combine multiple Configurators in one app – which is Contrail.
Now programming is an ever-evolving skill, which requires a lot of dedication and you never stop learning. I have found my passion for it, thanks to flight simulation!
The Contrail App seems to have some unique functionality to enable various configurations with Microsoft Flight Simulator add-ons. Is this something you felt was important for scenery developers and customers?
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, being able to manage and configure products has always been a highly requested feature by customers as well as developers. This didn’t come to an end with the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator. On the contrary, we are hoping for more sophisticated methods of configuring products using new SDK functionality. Preferably in real-time without having to restart the simulator.
A few Contrail products already have configurations, such as JetStream Design’s Milano Linate where you can activate static aircraft or LatinVFR’s latest release, the Airport Regional Environment X, where you can choose between multiple liveries of well-known carriers for ground services vehicles.
What are the future plans for the Contrail App and shop? Do you intend on supporting other simulators beyond Microsoft Flight Simulator?
We have big plans indeed! Besides the announcement of new partnerships, we will add new features to the desktop app as well as the webshop, ranging from improving usability to compatibility with other simulators such as Prepar3D. The Contrail app will eventually replace the 29Palms-Configurator as well as the Flightbeam-Manager.
With any new store/application, the biggest concern for customers is knowing they won’t have trouble accessing their products in the future. What can you say to reassure customers their purchases are safe?
It should be clear to every webshop owner, that once you launch, it is a never-ending commitment to assure accessibility of digital products around the clock. The Contrail webshop has only launched recently, but is part of a well-established infrastructure that has been built and optimized over many years. A global content delivery network ensures the best download speed, no matter where you live. It has also withstood high-traffic releases successfully, such as the A300 or the recently released Beluga by iniBuilds. So yes, I can assure you that Contrail is here to stay.
How are you working with developers to make Contrail a success? What feedback have you had from them yet?
Many of the features and design aspects of the desktop app have been implemented based on the ideas and/or feedback of the developers. Due to the close collaboration, I can easily prioritize new functionality and features for new versions of the app.
The feedback has been very good so far. The initial release of the Contrail desktop app was on the same day as the Microsoft Flight Simulator, as well as Flightbeam’s KDEN – the first Contrail product. We had planned to use Contrail for the release early on and were surprised when Microsoft announced the release for August 2020. I did my best to make Contrail work in time, at least with the most important features. But when the day came, I was quite worried that something might go wrong. We didn’t even have time to conduct a beta testing phase. This was the primary reason for the release of the app in “stealth mode”, without any public announcements.
In the end, I was quite relieved that nothing did go wrong. On the contrary, it went way better than any of my previous releases. Maybe we were favoured by fortune, at least for a day 😉
Are you looking for new developers to join the Contrail Shop? If yes and a developer is reading, how can they get in touch?
Certainly! As mentioned, Contrail shall be a marketplace where customers can expect high-quality products. So we won’t take on every product, but we will give every product a fair evaluation before making a decision.
If you are a developer and interested in joining Contrail, please contact me via e-mail ([email protected]) or via the support form in the Contrail desktop app (Settings > Support).
What’s upcoming for your scenery studio 29Palms? Obviously, you have Mykonos for Microsoft Flight Simulator upcoming, but what’s beyond that?
We have plans for bringing all of our products to Microsoft Flight Simulator, as well as Mykonos to Prepar3D. Probably except for Samos, which has recently been released in good quality by Terrainy Studios. Since I’m mostly working on the app and other software products, I’m relying on other developers to assist with the conversions. Mykonos is being converted and updated in collaboration with Emmanuel Stefanakis (lead developer of Chania LGSA). Nuremberg will be converted in collaboration with Aerosoft. So we will be getting there, slowly but surely!
But again, if you are a developer who is interested in helping with conversions, feel free to contact me!
How are you finding the transition to using Microsoft Flight Simulator to bring your airports to the platform? Will you continue supporting platforms like Prepar3D and X-Plane moving forward or do you see a future more on the new Microsoft platform?
I personally enjoy the new Microsoft Flight Simulator very much and am amazed by freeware projects such as the Working Title CJ4 and the flybywiresim A320, just to name a few.
Concerning new airport projects, I must admit that I am still undecided. App development / programming as well as 3D design are very complex, always evolving professions. From personal experience I can tell that trying to learn and eventually master both at the same time is almost impossible. (And by the way, only few truly master any of them 😉
So I will focus on app development and airport conversions before making further decisions.
I’m excited for the first study level aircraft releases, which will decide if the future truly is Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for this opportunity FSElite, and to you, the reader, for making it this far 🙂
*Discount valid until 1st May 2021 and is available on most products (21 as of the date of this article publication) in the Contrail store. Currently, LatinVFR’s San Juan and Aerosoft Chania LGSA Airport is not in this offer as it was just released and it’s likely that some future releases will not. This discount is offered out of goodwill for the community by FSElite and Contrail (including the developers part of the store) for a limited time.