Monday, February 4, 2008

A peek behind the curtain...

Nope, not another preview, but a blog post about a little road trip I took on Friday, back down to Seattle, to visit the wizards themselves, ACES Studios. Paul Lange, the lead designer on FSX, invited me over for a tour of their shop and to meet the FSX team, and I have to say I was highly impressed. I'd had the pleasure of meeting Hal and Mike Singer at the Avsim conference but it was great to meet Paul and Phil Taylor and many of the other team members and see the shop itself. And before you ask, yes I got a look at some FS11 stuff, and no I'm not saying a bloody word about it, sorry. ;)

What I can tell you is that they're a seriously cool bunch and I was really impressed with everyone I met. Their passion for flying is simply indisputable. Unlike any other game developer I've worked at or even visited, these guys and girls really do care about what they make. I've been in the business long enough to know the difference.

I'm not sure what struck me more, seeing the truly *insane* amount of aircraft paraphernalia and models on every wall and desk (and floor) or the single unopened Flight Simulator 1.0 box I saw in a glass case. That was quite a moment, had to sort of stop and stare at it for a minute. Thanks Bruce Artwick, we all owe you one. :)

We spent a lot of time talking about FSX and the future of flight simulator and I was really surprised at how many things we agreed on, right down to recent addon aircraft we like. Despite the limits imposed by current hardware and systems their vision of where the software could go is pretty cool and far reaching, and while I can't talk about the bits they're working on for the next version I can say that there's going to be some pretty serious wow factor in it if things go according to plan. Even at this very early stage in its development I was impressed with what I saw. Secondarily I had a little bit of a "cult hero's" welcome there from several people which *really* threw me off. I have a few fans at Aces it seems and I found that quite humbling haha.

Their place itself is quite nice actually. Externally it's your typical business park type layout, though at least they have real trees all around it (are you listening San Jose?) but inside it's anything but dull. Bright, spacious, airy and colourful, lots of windows, plenty of toys around and a very complete hot cafeteria (good calzones!). They have quite the art collection of screenshots on their walls as well, many of them by Mango and Cell, two of the best FSX still photographers out there. I also had a look at some of the art in Train Sim 2.0 and found myself remembering a time when I was very young, a rare moment long ago when trains were actually cooler to me than aircraft. :)

Yeah, ok, that didn't last, but I can see that project being a fun alternative for their art team for awhile especially. I can tell you from personal experience that you can burn out on game art pretty fast if you keep doing the same damn thing version after version, year after year. Franchise games are particularly hard on artists and programmers, so for anyone who thinks they should forget this train stuff and get back to FS, think of it instead as a working vacation for them, good for their well being and by extension for the well being of Flight Simulator.

So my thanks to Paul and the Aces team for a great and highly informative afternoon. It was pretty awesome to meet the people who make a product I've been addicted to for over 20 years. ;)

I didn't even get stuck at the border for three hours on the way home as I usually do. Maybe Canada Customs finally located their brains.

Lotus out.

17 comments:

Jet1954 said...

I wonder whatever happened to Bruce Artwick. I remember that name well. :)

Jet1954 said...

As Emily Latella used to say, "Nevermind!" I answered my own question. http://fshistory.simflight.com/fsh/artwick.htm

Smokey said...

"I didn't even get stuck at the border for three hours on the way home as I usually do. Maybe Canada Customs finally located their brains."
I doubt it. I have never in my life a smooth flying through the border coming back to Canada. But I don't think i could ever leave it, I'm addicted to Canada aha.

fighter25 said...

Wow.. You are one lucky guy meeting *The Flightsim Guru Phil* and seeing FSXI ideas. Hell I would die if I could even drive past the ACES studio!

Lotus said...

Haha Smokey, I hear ya. It was a first for me as well. When I came back from the Avsim conf I was stuck at the peace arch for at least two hours. When you have to build bathrooms on the side of the road near the crossing that's a good sign that you need MORE FRICKIN BORDER GUARDS.

@jet1954, here's the big question, where is Artwick now? That article was from 1996, the guy just dropped off the face of the earth after that haha.

jet1954 said...

Well, if I were him, I'd be off flying, investing, and spending my $$ somewhere :)

BTW, on a scale of 1-10, how would your grade the upcoming 'WoW' factor?

Lotus said...

Jet1954, I can't really say any more than I have, non-disclosure agreement and all, and I always honour those. I'll just say that what I saw was cool. :)

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone go out to ACES and pop in for a visit?

jet1954 said...

Well then, I'm sure it's going to rock!...but probably not as much as Bus Stimulator :P

Lotus said...

Anonymous, no I highly doubt it, I was invited.

Jet, agreed, nothing beats Bus Simulator! Crysis? bah, crap by comparison. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey lotus,
Can you let more people into your sessions that arn't your friends? I tried to join but all the slots left were for your friends. I've been in your sessions before, and I love it. Your sessions are great fun. Are you not letting people that aren't your friend join because you are filming? :?

Lotus said...

Anonymous, you'll have to let me know your gamespy ID, and I'll keep an eye out for you. Or right click my name if you see it in the lobby and add me to friends. The reason I keep it 'friends list only' is that I just can't stand being buzzed by screaming 10 year olds in F-18s any more. Every time I open a couple slots in the server that's all I get. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

Okay I'll try to do that.

jet1954 said...

Hey Lotus, I'd like to fly with you too. I get frustrated with all the willy-nilly flying that goes on. Very rarely do I run across anyone who wants to fly formation, or aerobatics, or dogfight, etc.
My Gamespy I.D. is P51_Propjob

Anonymous said...

I know this is a bit off the topic but what would be better, FS2004 with higher settings or FSX with lower settings with high FPS?
the only way i get 30FPS is with low Graphics and since you have had a lot of flight sim experience I thought it relevant to ask you!

Lotus said...

Anonymous (such an easy name to remember! haha), it really depends on what you like to do with the sim. If you're into really complex airliners and such, then FS9 is probably better for you. If you're into 'real flying' haha, ie: general aviation, fighters, warbirds, helicopters etc, then FSX beats FS9 hands down in every single area.

The graphics are better, less stutters even at low fps, the addons are much higher quality, and the flight modeling is better for every kind of plane.

Not to mention the online play is 1000 times better and smoother than FS9, and if you like flying high altitude FSX actually has a round earth. Sounds like a minor thing but it's very cool. FSX also allows you to share a cockpit with someone else in multiplayer which is just plain awesome.

Honestly I can't even look at FS9 any more, it just looks so dead and lifeless by comparison, feels that way too in the flight modeling.

The only downside is that FSX's massive improvements come at a cost, you simply must have a fast core2duo or quad to truly enjoy all it has to offer.

Anonymous said...

thanks, im sticking with FSX