Today’s Flight Plan
Have you ever looked at default FSX scenery, and almost thrown up in your mouth? You aren’t alone. That’s where John Venema decided to do something about it, and started a business called ORBX.
ORBX is now a household name in the flight simulation ranks, responsible for some of the most incredible scenery to be offered by a third party. Your simulator just won’t be the same without ORBX scenery, for so many reasons.
Having a realistic environment in which to train in is obviously important. As pilots, we need to be immersed in the experience of simulated flight as much as possible to believe that we are actually there.
As we go through this show, and share the specific links with you, you’ll see exactly what we mean.
There’s no doubt that ORBX has made an incredible impact on flight simulation, and it only gets better from here.
John Venema, CEO and founder of ORBX, joins us on this podcast.
Huge thanks go to John Venema for joining us on this show. He does some super amazing work, and I’m just so impressed with all he’s done for simulation. Thanks again, John!
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Kick the tires and light the fires, this is AviatorCast episode 15!
Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff. Here’s your host, Chris Palmer.
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators, you’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. I’m a sky-reacher, ground-defier, cloud-puncher, throttle-pusher aviator. Yes. I love to fly. No matter how much I get, I just can’t get enough. I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack , a flight simulation training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is a weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an art form, one that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility, and a commitment to excellence. Each episode of AviatorCast will have real flight training and flight simulation topics, or an interview with an inspirational and influential aviator. Our desire and mission is not only to create awesome aviators, but also bridge the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Show notes, transcript, community discussion and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com.
So thank you for joining me on this episode of AviatorCast, this being the 15th episode. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this show, and I hope you’ve been here before. If not, welcome. I appreciate having you here. I think you’ll have a great time sharing in the passion for aviation if you will. This is a great show we have, a lot of fun. I try to have a lot of fun and also bring you some great information, and that is truly what it’s all about, and be better at what we do, and do more of what we love to do which is flying.
So before we get into this particular episode of AviatorCast, I have a review for you. This comes from iTunes and all the way from Australia. This is the Australia episode because our interviewee is also from Australia, But this particular review from iTunes comes from Doizer. He said “So glad I found this, five starts. Just started out thinking about flying lessons and recently started with a sim. This is a great addition to bringing sims and real flying together.” So Doizer, thanks for that review. Really appreciate it, and I would have to agree with you, we definitely believe in bringing sims and real flying together and utilizing a simulator to better your training. And you know, I know a lot of you out there listening to this particular podcast may not be able to be pilots or it’s in your future and you’re not yet pilots, or you have the opportunity but that’s kind of past in your life, there’s no shame in that. There’s so much to be said for this flight simulation hobby that we have, if you want to even call it a hobby. I’d more call it an obsession. Big props to you Doizer for using a simulator, starting out with your training as well, and I’m excited that you’re here.
Now, we have a great episode lined out for you today. We have another hangar talk episode if you will. This one I’m really excited about because it’s something that we actually haven’t done before. So on this episode, we have a developer that is quite popular in the flight simulator world, so this is a gentleman who has really made an impact the last six or eight years here, and has just completely changed the landscape literally with flight simulation. This gentleman’s name is John Venema. He is from a company called Orbx. You may also know Orbx from their line of terrain products for flight simulator called Full Terrain Experience or FTX, and this company does an absolute stellar job. If you were a real pilot and you’ve gone through some training before in a level D simulator, you will have seem some environments that are believable maybe, but what this company does and what I want to explain before we get into this hangar talk with John, is that Orbx essentially creates the most realistic environment possible that you can imagine, and they do so by hand-placing every tree, they draw every shoreline, they put information into the simulator where all the roads are correct. They have realistically modelled mountains. These guys have kind of a range of products. Not all of their products are created equal in the realism sense, but every single thing this company does is just top-notch, and you can count on this guys to make realistic scenery.
So, what does that mean for both parties? What does that mean for flight simmers and what does that mean for pilots, people that are using a simulator to augment their training? What that does is, starting out as a flight simmer, there is no better place to get scenery for your simulator than with Orbx. Hands down, I feel confident in making that statement. These guys make absolutely fantastic terrain that is just unmatched. They make certain areas and if you live in one of these areas, say that you load up at a local airport, you can literally get out the VFR map, and this is just crazy, you can literally get out the VFR map, you can follow all the terrain features that are on that map. Say that there’s a cabin on the map, you can spot that cabin on the scenery. Say that there’s a tower, you can spot that tower. Say that there’s a certain feature, the way the shoreline is or the riverbed, all of these things incredibly matched in this scenery, and something that you do not get from your flight school’s simulator. I would be confident in saying that most flight schools do not realistically depict their simulations as far as the software that goes behind it, and you’ll see exactly what I mean as you follow this episode.
That kind of dovetails into flight training and what this means for pilots. Obviously for a flight simmer, it’s the best scenery, you should get it, that’s pretty simple. For a pilot, what that means is that you are immersed in the realistic environment. You are in a place that looks like that actual place you are flying. If you didn’t have something like this on the flipside, then you are operating an environment that does not depict the charts that you are using, it does not depict the instrument charts, it doesn’t depict the VFR charts, very unrealistic as a base simulator. FSX and X-plane are very unreal… no, X-plane is a little better, but SFX at its default. So you go to store, you buy it. It’s not realistic at all. And you’ll see that. You’ll load it up, load it up at your local airport there where you are, and you’ll find that the terrain features do not much. Yes, you realize that there are mountains to the east. They don’t look anything like the mountains that you know in your area, so in the sense, the default is terrible. Now, at a package like Orbx, completely different story. You can literally pick out all the features in the area, assuming you know the area, and fly to your house, or fly to any destination just because you know that area, and you can follow specific roads that you know, that you’ll know the name of those roads because the scenery is just so realistically depicted.
What I’m saying is that there is a level of immersion here with a scenery like Orbx produces, and this is just something you can’t get anywhere else, it is absolutely stunning and absolutely beautiful, and these guys have really taken it upon themselves as part of their mission as a company to cover the entire globe with this immersive and beautiful scenery that makes you forget that it is not the real thing. So this is a great interview with John Venema. Just wanted to give you a little context there before we started, I know it’s a little long-winded, but that will give you a sense of why this matters and why this scenery is so important for people that use a flight simulator as a hobby. They are pretty much already familiar with this company. It’s something in these circles where they just know that these guys are top-notch.
For you pilots out there, this is going to be a bit of a different episode because we don’t talk about human factors or safety or procedures or really anything like that, so if you listen to this episode and I encourage you to do so, listen to it with the intent of increasing the realism of your simulator, so that when you do go and you fly in your simulator, you have the most realistic environment possible, so you are replicating to a greater extent what your flights will actually be like, so I hope that make sense, I hope you guys enjoy this interview with John. I know I did. It is very enlightening, and he has a lot of great thoughts about the future of flight simulation as well, and from this guy, we can take that nearly as gospel. So here is John Venema.
Now, a special hangar talk segment.
Chris: Alright everybody, we are honored to have one of the prime FS developers with us today, John Venema. How are you doing John?
John: I’m really well today Chris, how are you?
Chris: You know, I’m doing pretty good. It’s been a crazy day but I’ve been really looking forward to this interview with you, and I’m excited about the things we’re going to talk about, because we’ve been focusing on the show heavily on flight training specifically and I know that our flight sim enthusiasts are looking forward to hearing from a developer, and you’re our first developer on this show, so we’re excited to have you here. So, where are you currently located? Where are you coming to us from?
John: Right now, I’m in Melbourne Australia.
John: And I’ve lived in Australia on and off for 40-something years, but I’m in the process of moving to the United Kingdom to live there permanently from next month.
Chris: Great. And you have a team of people there too right?
John: No. We help set up a company called SIM720 to production of regions primarily for Europe. They’re not affiliated with Orbx, so I was instrumental with some of the guys that run that company, setting them up and getting them trained up. We had differences of philosophy about a year and a half into the partnership and they went their own way. We’re still amicable. We still talk. I still pay their invoices, so it’s all good. One of the things that I’m quite proud of as Orbx is that we have launched quite a few careers of people, and people come and go, move in our team, we’re seeing lots more companies pop up that had had publishing experience with Orbx and have read their craft, and you’ll continue to see more of that. I don’t hold, cling to anybody staying within, not expanding forever. People are free to do what they want. But I’m quite excited is more and more developers popping out everywhere that have come from the Orbx family which is great.
Chris: Right, yeah. One of those that has kind of joined your fraternity if you will is Bill Womack. He was a guy that I knew back when he was kind of his own developer and I know he’s doing a lot of work for you guys.
John: Case in point, Bill is someone who was self-publishing, joined our team, released some really quality releases. Twin Oaks has been just Seminole airfield that is much loved by many people, and at least some few more fantastic airports, and then he decided that, again whether it’s philosophical or directional or vision, he is now publishing for himself again with his iBlueYonder. He’s got some terrific stuff coming up for the east coast and I believe he’s doing some stuff for Oregon as well, so I wish him all the best. Bill and I talk on a regular basis. Again, just another example of where talent comes and goes.
Chris: Yeah. Natural ebb and flow of the industry, nothing wrong with that.
John: That’s it, that’s it.
Chris: So, one of the first questions I ask people that are on our show is how you fell in love with aviation. I’m not sure what your actual aviation background is, if you are a pilot yourself, but to some extent or another, there is a love for aviation there somewhere. Can you tell us about that?
John: Yeah sure. A lot of the backstory of Orbx can be found on our website FullTerrain.com. If you’d click on the Orbx logo, there’s a bit of backstory about how it started off and why I was started, stuff like that, but I’m going to share with you and all our listeners. Essentially my father and my siblings were all aviation nuts. Dad used to take us to Melbourne International Airport back in the days when there was an observation deck, and that would be an outing. We weren’t a wealthy family at all, so even if we have to occupy these young sons for the whole afternoon by simply going to the airport parking which is free in those days, the only observation deck and we just watch aircraft come and go, and for us that was amazing. Plane spot us from a very early age. Dad was a minister and he was involved in a missionary ideation fellowship which is by flying Cessnas and things into Papua New Guinea from a little airport in Coldstream in Victoria so he was involved with that, he went up.
So he’s always been in aviation, and that sort of influenced three of his sons who all became pilots too and became instructors with various type ratings. Three brothers that are fully qualified pilots, one of them still flies almost every weekend and takes me up in ultra light aircraft and he’s very passionate about it. He can balance his job with flying so he gets to do it all the time which is great. So yeah, it runs in the family. Myself, I’ve never done my PPL. That was something I’ve wanted to do but I never really shoot it because sort of flight simulation took over, veered me from fulfilling that dream. I do read a 172 every now and again where I’ll be living in the UK. We’re not far from a neighborhood where I can just rent, and an instructor basically let’s my fly and just lands the thing at the end 45 minutes, so I think I’ll be up again, but it’s something that I’ve never, never finished. Maybe one day when I retire.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And you know, that’s actually something that happens throughout the flight simulation community. People just kind of follow different career paths, there’s nothing wrong with that, that doesn’t mean they’re not passionate about aviation but that’s just kind of what happens and flight simulation is that thing that they focus on, so it’s pretty common thread.
John: Yeah, well I mean. I’ve probably flown several million miles on commercial aircraft, because I’ve had a lengthy career of some 27 years and I’ve visited 50 plus countries. At one stage I was going Melbourne, Australia to Boston every month, and we racked up the air miles and I should give you an appreciation of, and I know window seat [Inaudible – 0:17:32], so we see an appreciation of what terrain looks like from here at various altitudes, how lighting should look, all these things when you’re literally looking at windows from millions of miles. And I still love flying. I never never cease to get excited when I get to the airports, with kerosene and avgas, and I still love flying on different… for example, just only a month and a half ago was my first time to fly on an 9380 so I was major excited about that because I’ve been flying for a flying a bunch of times but I’ve never had a chance to be on one, so I still get a buzz even today.
Chris: Great, great. Well it’s good to hear your backstory on that, that’s really neat. You mentioned a couple of things there that will play well into I guess even your career. Like you said, you’ve been in the air looking at that ground environment for a really long time. So why don’t we get into what you do. We’re not going to assume that everyone listening to this podcast knows what you do and who you are regardless of how great of an impact you’ve had on the flight simulation community and not only the flight simulation community but flight simulation as a whole, talking about outside, just the enthusiast market and looking into the actual flight training market. So you are from a company called Orbx and your main URL is FullTerrain.com. While we’re in this conversation, I encourage everyone to go there and just kind of browse around while we’re talking about this, if you’re not listening to this during your commute or something. Essentially tell us why Orbx. First of all, what you do, and what you do, you’re not necessarily the only person that does that, so what separates Orbix from the other people out there creating what you create and the reason I open that opportunity up to you is because I truly believe that you guys are the best of what you do, and we really believe in your products and we use them whenever we can in our training and our media, so I’d love to hear your take on what Orbx is and why Orbx is the best.
John: I incorporated the company in 2006 and really did nothing with it in nearly twelve months. It was just I had a bunch of ideas in my head. At the time, I was working on a massive freeway project called Vista Australia or VAus as we call it.
John: And VAus kind came out because I was using the flight simulator for my PDO and what I saw in the sim was rubbish. It was just a joke. I think Marcus primarily focused on Washington State and a few points of interest and the rest of the world that’s neglected. That really got me started on creating textures and creating environments and getting a feel for what it was to develop because prior to that I had zero development experience. What I did have was a Marketing background and a Graphic Design background. Creating my own presentations that I would get up in front of CEOs, COOs, and audiences with five thousand people and do these multimedia presentations, required me to really understand Graphic Design and Photoshop and multimedia.
John: It sort of came in handy. Once VAus sort of was out there, and it became probably the most downloaded freeware on the net for a while. We’ve had half a million downloads by the time someone said to me, you should charge for this John. You should charge a dollar for every download. I said, yes I know.
Chris: Yes, no kidding.
John: That’s what really got me thinking. I reached to the company and Orbx stands for basically orb the world X ten times the detail. What had happened is that Microsoft and Aces announced Flight Simulator X. I buried myself into the specs of that and [Inaudible] [21:46] and realized quickly we could have ten times the texture and we should Flight Sim 9. So I felt “What if we could do the whole world at ten times the texture definition of Flight Sim 9? That would be really something, wouldn’t it? That would be really something.”
John: Today, that was always a long long-term goal. I knew that possibly we’d get there, but it would take a bunch of stuff. It would take getting the right people around me, getting the right amount of investors and the right amount of cash, executing flawlessly, using all my marketing and design skills and a lot of dots have to really line themselves up.
Chris: Yes, definitely.
John: When we launched the website, this is the mission statement. I’m reading off the website right now because that mission statement has not changed one word in seven years.
John: So let me read it to you.
F.T.X. which basically stands for Full Terrain Experience is an exciting new way to enjoy flight simulation on your P.C. See the world the way it was meant to be seen like a living, breathing, vibrant place you can always reach out and touch from your cockpit.
That’s what people see when they get on the website. They go, wow, what are these guys doing? They want you to really get immersed in what they’re creating. When we set out, it was all about just terrain and textures. I took some of the guys from the VAus project. I met Holger Sandmann and Bill Wolmack and Alan Crisman and a whole bunch of really cool guys at the Microsoft Developer Conference in Seattle in 2007. And slowly, these guys came on board, because I was able to sort of share the excitement in my vision that I want to achieve. The team grew. More and more people came on board. We executed quite well. We’re releasing the Australian regions. Massive amount of hype and publicity around that. A great sales spike initially, and then for a while things were touch and go for the company. We weren’t able to pay our bills. We weren’t able to pay our staff. We weren’t able to pay anything, really. I had to go and sell shares in the company to raise capital, what they call hurt money.
John: I would own majority of the company if it wasn’t for the fact that I needed money in the early days to expand because I knew that we wanted to expand to airports and different cool technologies. We had some great news and we had some good years, and we didn’t branch out into creating new content, which were airports. More and more people joined. For me working in hellacious hours and having sulfur in the office, to us closing the office down because we couldn’t pay the rent, to everybody working from home, for us creating a lot of infrastructure in the background which is a whole bunch of server capacity forms communicating via the Internet, to me sort of pulling back from doing work and just becoming more of a businessman and running the team. Essentially that’s what I do now from day to day. I don’t do any development work whatsoever. I don’t miss the development work. It may come as a surprise when people hear that but I really don’t miss planting two million trees, making five hundred thousand houses. As much as it was so much fun listening to heavy metal on my headphones, I just don’t have the time to do that now.
John: My focus is making sure that I’ve got a team that runs effectively, that bills are getting paid, that my investors are happy, that we expand into new markets, new regions, new opportunities. I’m really just more of a businessman. I think our customers know I’m a businessman. I don’t talk passionately about I had such a buzz making that airport or I’m really enjoying the development.
John: All my guys are developers, share all that.
John: They share this with me and the passion for what they create. They can freely share and talk about, well you know, we’ve got a guy called Misha Gajic who was interviewed by European Globe early last week or the week before. His passion shows through. I’m happy for any of my guys to go out and talk about what they’re passionate about.
Chris: Yes, definitely.
John: That’s where I’m at now. I’m running a team that has got sixty people worldwide, twenty different countries. We don’t have an office. We don’t have a fancy presence on the high street. We just sell and earn money on online store. We’ve gone from strength to strength after having some very shaky years, and the customers are the reason why we’re still around because they’re enthusiastic, they’re passionate, and they’re loyal.
John: Everyone wants freeware. We don’t charge for upgrades or patches or service patch. Basically, we’re all about making sure we provide amazing content at minimal disruption to the buying process.
Chris: Right. I was just going to say, you know, you’re not going to have those types of loyal customers if the product isn’t there as well. Because there are other options out there in the community, I’m not saying they’re worthwhile options, I’m just saying that there could be a distracted effort for some of them to buy something else, but your quality of product just stands out from everything else. That’s big too. It really hasn’t suffered over the years from what I’ve noticed. It just seems to get better. It seems like the process is accelerating too. We’re getting more areas faster.
John: Yes, I know. I mean Northern California which we released [Inaudible] [27:46] back had a two-year gestation. There are many reasons for that. I do try to introduce efficiencies into the business by outsourcing aviation production.
John: And it didn’t work. It didn’t work because we couldn’t maintain the quality and the passion in the product by going to an outsourced team. We went back to our roots. If anything, the team’s became slightly smaller because I just want the team to focus on what we’ve always been good at, which is putting passion and love in creating stuff that people can really see. Perhaps we shouldn’t go into it. That’s why Northern California, I mean is just selling so wonderfully well, which is so pleased with that. But people are saying we can really see this is crafted. We can see the love that’s gone into it, and it has because that dev team is just an exemplary bunch of guys that are just, we refused to let it go until it was to the point that I wanted to. Our stuff is getting better has gotten better because I keep pushing the guys to do better.
Chris: Right, exactly.
John: To introduce all these flow technologies, which is just marketing words really, you know, cash flow and stuff like that.
John: If you don’t innovate, if you don’t market around innovation, people aren’t going to perceive that you’re moving forward. We are moving forward. Our airports today are for life. They’re for life. You park your Cessna. You can see people walking around. You can hear a radio playing. You can hear drilling and noise in the hangar. You can see the trees swaying in the wind, the butterflies are flying, and dogs are walking around. I mean, you know it’s like, that mission statement I read a few minutes ago, we’re now there.
Chris: Yes, definitely. Exactly. I totally agree.
John: We’re going to be talking about probably what they’re going to ask me about F3D version 2 and stuff like that.
John: That’s like another quantum leap again with that platform. That vision is only going to get stronger, stronger, and stronger and we start to leverage the stuff that’s coming out. It’s really an exciting place to be, you know?
Chris: Yes, definitely. You know, every time one of these new areas comes out, it seems like for me, just speaking to my own experience, kind of actually from a customer perspective even and maybe even a little bit in between because what I do professionally I suppose is so directly connected to the kind of quality product you put out. What I look at is, when Orbx releases a new area of scenery then that is an area in which I can suddenly fly in. You know? An area where I actually do want to go and I want to spend time flying in the small airports around there. I want to spend time tweaking everything just right, so the flight is ultra-realistic and everything looks just right. I don’t necessarily do that until that area is available. One perfect example is Southern Alaska. That’s where I live. To not have an area like that modeled correctly just as you felt as you’ve said before about Australia and I’m sure how everyone feels about the Pacific Northwest, really any area where you have scenery. I didn’t fly in flight simulator in that area until your scenery came out. You know, that’s the type of, I guess, intangible loyalty that I have to your product that isn’t necessarily dollars, right? It’s an area where that’s essentially the only place I’m going to fly and the only place I want to fly. I guess I just identified that on myself and wonder how many more people are like that and from what I’ve seen and observed, that’s actually the case with a lot of people in the community.
John: Yes, there’s a lot of customers that profess to only flying our regions. They refuse to fly outside of Orbx world. We sort of catered to that a little bit with FTX Global. It’s a way of doing the Orbx sort of texture quality of the whole world. FTX Global is a very long-term strategy for a product line and it’s not designed to substitute for regions at all.
John: A lot of people just love their regions and won’t fly out of them. They can see the graph just get into it. They can recognize the flyby chart and go to one of their locals or they enjoy the enhanced high-definition airports. This is always a great example where you can literally spend a whole day, or even more than a whole day. Just, let’s say you start at Orca’s Island, you can just hop your way down the coast and never land at anything other than our Orbx [Inaudible] [32:55] airport.
John: Where there’s people walking around, there’s stuff happening at every place you land. The sense of emotion you could get just by investing in the Pacific Northwest and what do we got for that, a dozen airports? That is the simulator. For many people, it is the simulator.
John: They want several, I want to go further south. They’ll invest in Northern California, which means they can then go from Starks Twin Oaks down to Redding, you know, in one flight and never leave the Orbx world and never leave Orbx Payware. We’ve got like a dozen airports planned for Northern California.
Chris: Yes, there’s a lot there.
John: The simulator could extend from Vancouver down to Sacramento sort of thing, the Bay Area and they would never leave this reach environment. Our goal in the long term is to be there for the entire planet but it’s going to take decades to do that. In the meantime, FTX Global is the stopgap measure that time. There’s one way to do that.
Chris: Let’s talk FTX Global. Let’s talk about that a little more because I know you are mentioning here and eluding to the fact that you are covering areas outside of the region. You’re not necessarily meaning to replace the regions. That’s not the point of all this. It’s not the same product either. I want to differentiate a little bit just in my own words and correct me if I’m wrong. Orbx or Full Terrain does several things. They create airports, which kind of live within the scenery. That’s kind of the micro level. They have the regions, which is a specific geographic region. You have regions like Southern Alaska, you’ve mentioned Northern California, we have the Pacific Northwest, which includes Oregon, Washington, and part of British Columbia. You also have some different ones like Northern Rocky Mountains. There are these different regions too, and these are the high-quality regions; literally get out of V.F.R. map. You can follow landmarks, towers, roads, and the towns look the same. It’s incredible at how much detail there is.
There’s this newer product that you have just recently, which is Global. I guess explain that to me a little more because although I do understand it in theory, one thing that I’d like clarified for not only myself but for the listeners is how Vector plays into that. You also have the Open GL I’m not sure if I’m saying that correctly but the third component to that. Can you tell us more about Global?
John: Yes. You’ve explained the airports sitting on top of regions quite well and we were going at a pace that we want go with those. We’ve slowed down production a little bit because we’re focusing back on quality. The Northern California team is now working on Norway, which is really being described as the Pacific Northwest of Europe, really.
John: You imagine going from all of those fjords and inlets, and following the Oslo Bergen railway up in the mountains. It’s going to be beautiful.
Chris: I’m really excited about that, yes.
John: We’re creating some dedicated airport content for Norway at the moment, which is going to blow people away. There’s a whole bunch of innovation going into one airport in particular at Narvik, which is to us stunning. Stunning. The whole town including the sloped runway and airport is one model including every single house. The way that Australia has approached that is just building on that sort of stuff that we’re going to the next level again, so it’s fantastic.
John: F.T.X. Global really is what if I don’t want to get that sticker shock from leaving Pacific Northwest and flying east and seeing default textures. It’s like that horrible feeling, sinking feeling that you’re flying east and suddenly you’re seeing default markers of textures appearing on the horizon and you’re going, no, and then you turn around.
John: What really Global is about is that we’re going to give you a baseline upgrade for the whole world. This is a global base. You simply just install them to get right back. If you want to back up the textures you’re using now let’s say [Inaudible] [37:39] or something else, we give you that option, but really it’s not designed to be a swap in swap out product. It’s like install and forget. Suddenly, everything in the whole world has got this Orbx feel to it. It may not necessarily be correct, we may not have the exact jungle texture that’s appropriate for the Amazon or the southwest of the USA may not be the quite right eternal red desert or stuff like that, but it’s 85% good enough.
Chris: Yes, it’s way better. You mentioned the jungle, right? If you’re just going to have default FSX, you’re probably going to have a desert where that jungle is supposed to be.
John: Yes, right. What Global doesn’t do, is upgrade to the main class with all the roads, and rivers, rowers, [Inaudible] [38:26]. Global is a part of three-fold family of products. So you’ve got Global and then you’ve got Global Vector, which we developed in conjunction with pilots who are well-renowned long-established Austrian company who I met with last year in the U.K. and we said “We should do something together,” so here we are. What Vector does, it uses various sources including open street maps and a whole bunch of stuff that we’re able to use. We’re about to release its third iteration, 1.15. What that does, it just upgrades all the coastlines, the rivers, the railways, the roads, road networks. It also works with the FTX Global Lighting. We increased all the detail in cities you get these beautiful lightscapes.
John: We got airport elevation corrections technology in there, which is in 1.15, which is being released almost imminently. It will automatically go to every single airport in the flight sim database and automatically correct any elevation issues. At the moment, we have this little control panel where you can manually do it. That’s been completely automated now. Vector is just, it’s almost like a subscription. You pay your 70 bucks or whatever it is, 69 bucks, and what you’re getting is you’ve subscribed to a continual program of improvement for X number of years where the product is continually getting better.
We shot a screenshot from Little Rock Arkansas, which the difference is staggering of how many new water bodies we’ve got now or around that and river systems just by changing the data source from our sim to another data source.
John: That’s what Vector is all about. This is continually evolving improving data set that just puts everything and it makes all the coastlines much more accurate as opposed to the [Inaudible] [40:33].
John: The final part of the Global family is what we call Open LC. Open LC stands for Open Land Class. Again, we are using open license data sources to create one-kilometer by one-kilometer resolution land class and we’re doing it one chunk at a time. At the moment, in testing is we’ve got Open LC Europe. We’ve started showing screenshots of Denmark, Sweden, Scandinavia, Finland. We just about started testing Spain, France, Germany, and stuff all that. That basically, adds a whole bunch of new textures that are indigenous to the area.
John: LC Europe is going to introduce a whole bunch of new stuff. Like the Mediterranean is going to have like olive groves and vineyards, and rocky landscapes, and dry outs sort of dusty stuff that you see in Spain and Morocco and places like that.
John: In France, you’re going to see sort of different types of landscapes and different types of crop structures. In Eastern Europe, you’re going to see the crops take in a different form and different orientation. It’s got a really quite almost like a region but the difference is that with those three layouts, all of Europe for example, you’re sort of like going to the European region but you’re not going to go the X level of where all the airports are upgraded.
John: With 3D grasses, people walking around. You’re not going to get all the wind farms place. You’re not going to get all the lighthouse positions. You’re going to get all the marinas at every port. You’re not going dedicated 3D point of interest models and cityscapes and stuff and photo-real mountain areas. That is what the difference in regions locally. Regions is just a hand-crafted locally focused regional areas that just put in as much as we can to make it a completely self-contained experience. Whereas Global goes sort of 75% percent of way there but it does it for much larger areas. They’re made to look hand in hand. There’s no reason why you wouldn’t buy FTX Norway as a region and have it sit on top of FTX Global Vector and [Inaudible] [42:51] in Europe because the Norway region so much more in detail.
Chris: Right, exactly.
John: LC Norway, for example.
John: I hope that sort of explains things a little bit.
Chris: It really does. It helps a whole lot. Especially, I do like the tie-in you have at the regions too to teach everyone and to teach me how the step up happens from there. Because you talk about all these different great things that you’re adding with Global, with the trifecta there, with the Global Base, Vector, and then Open LC. The common question would be for people, well, why would I even buy a region, but you just clarified that, and that is adding all of those different immersive details that really just take it beyond what we thought was possible just a few years ago, I suppose.
John: Well, anyway, Norway is a great example. The question that is going to be asked, why would I buy FTX Norway? For example, Holga, is processing nine hundred thousand water bodies alone, just for Norway. We will likely do a cityscape Oslo. It’s a real city, it’s not a large city, so we’re looking into getting stuff like that. There’ll be photo-real glaciers where there are glaciers. There’ll be very accurate representation of seasonal changes from snow lines that Holga is so good at. There’ll be frozen like bodies. Every wind farm, every lighthouse, every vertical obstruction, every tower, everything that you’re used to will be in that region. Finally, every single airport in Norway is going to get upgraded to the Orbx region upgrade but we’re going one step further this time, in that we’re getting one of the guys to create bespoke custom models. Norwegian upgraded airports, so they look like Norwegian airports. You can’t simply put a t-hangar from ZPW and work it in Norway, that’s a Norwegian airport. No. What we’re doing, we’re just making unique-looking terminals and buildings that are Norwegian. We will be sure to show comparison shots between, this is Global Vector Open LC combo.
John: Versus FTX Norway and people say, there’s no difference, isn’t it?
John: I’ll invest in that.
Chris: Yes, definitely. That sounds really exciting. Really exciting and thanks for the clarification there. So just unload on us with P3D or PrepareD 3D or PrepareD. I’m not sure exactly what to call it. What do you guys call it?
Chris: Okay, P3D. Unload on us with P3D. Tell us why it’s good or bad. What the platform means for the future? What you guys are planning with it? How is Orbx using P3D and what’s the prospect looking like there?
John: P3D is the future for us. There’s a simple reason, it’s the only code line that we want to run to. I’ll nip the X plane question about now. We have no interest in porting or coding for X plane.
Chris: Okay, thank you.
John: Because we simply are not resourced enough as a company to do so and the customer base of X plane is too small to justify the cost.
John: I know there are many other vendors that do direct content for X plan. I’ll be interested in how much money they’re making from it.
Chris: Right, exactly.
John: At the end of the day, Orbx is business. We do things that make sense financially.
Chris: Yes, that’s what I tell everybody. Why aren’t we all coming over to X-plane? X-plane has its advantages. It has some good stuff as far as the aerodynamics are concerned and there are some promising things from X-plane. The problem is that X-plane is not where the money is, and a lot of the times, people don’t understand that. At the end of the day, you or any other developer, isn’t going to put their blood, sweat and tears, let alone, let alone their financial success or lack thereof into a platform that doesn’t have the dollars behind it, so that’s totally understandable.
John: Yes, so enough said on that. I don’t want to disparage X-plane. I think what Austin’s done is remarkable for effectively what is a one plus two–man operation. I think he’s had enormous success over it. I think he’s made a lot of money of iOS apps from what I hear, and I think it looks beautiful. I think it’s a beautiful-looking simulator. He’s got some nice engine people working for him and the lining system’s good. Here’s the key, PrepareD version 2.2 is what truly caught up. A lot of people have been saying FSX and P3D just starting to look old, they’re not using any of the latest technology. I can tell you now, that 2.2 which luckily they’ll release in this week, pretty much knocks every bug that’s been plugging us on the hit. It completely fixes out of memory errors. It reduces the virtual disk space consumption by at least 550 meg by reengineering the autogen rendering system. They’ve introduced the most beautiful cloud shadow you’ve ever seen, and to see those cloud shadows moving over the terrain in real time, and using your time-accelerator slider, if you’ve actually gone from dawn to dusk in mid-day and back again and see the clouds just move over the landscape and the shadows move with it, is spectacular. It’s spectacular. And the thing about it is all the environments you’ve known and loved and grown with Orbx since we’ve started really creating content are going to live in that new environment.
John: It’s almost like going from black and white movies to Technicolor.
Chris: Big leap.
John: You know the moment from the Wizard of Oz where it starts in black and white and they’re in Kansas and then suddenly everything goes from narrow screen to wide screen Technicolor? That is literally what it’s like from flying from FSX into P3D 2.2. It says 0.2 because everybody needs to get that patch. Whoever’s using P3D 2 needs to get the 2.2 patch, because we’re now specifically writing content that says you must have that patch.
Chris: Right, yes.
John: The lighting systems now work and you don’t know what you’re going to do. The way the shadows work is just a lot like, the cloud shadows, the lighting system, the HDR, the efficiency in autogen, the smoothness of frame rates, no more out of memory areas. For us, we really do want everybody to move to that platform but we’re realists, right? The migration to P3D by the time we’ve moved across, P3D version 3 will be out with, you know, goodness knows what.
John: DX 12 support. Support for all these new rendering stuff. Anything is possible. It’s a great platform. I’ve been to Orlando and I’ve met with Bard and the team. I’m seeing what they’re doing there. Wes and I emailed each other on a regular basis. A lot of what we ask them to add to version 2, they put in. Specifically, in response to a lot of content and white papers that we gave them some time ago. They’re very close to Orbx. It’s a mutual relationship. We have a really healthy close relationship to the studio and development team. That is yet another reason for us to have a lot of comfort and feel enthusiastic about the platform. It’s just a beautiful environment. I think once people start to see videos, see it moving in motion, see how stuff looks, there’s going to be a rush for it.
John: There really is, there’s going to be a rush on that sim because there are no more reasons for this, you know, sit on forums, have a bitch and moan about, this is not working, that’s not working, because all of these things have been removed. I knew it would get there but they’ve got their own gestation and team promises it comes just like every team has, you know? No one does a new release in a bug-free situation for anything, so all credit to them. They’ve worked very hard since October and I guess most of the things we talked to them about.
Chris: That’s a breath of fresh air too to have that sort of a close relationship to the company that actually controls the code of the simulator. It’s just so much different than what developers have dealt with in the past and that alone is encouraging just that relationship. Let alone where it is now, you know. The fact that it’s actively being developed upon, and by sharp people that are willing to have those conversations and are willing to improve. I think that’s a recipe for success.
John: For sure. I mean, you know, it’s encouraging that the guys that are on the Orbx team can actually e-mail their head of the development team in Lockheed Martin, or post in their testing forms, and get instant feedback, and talk to the developers themselves. That’s the situation we really had with Microsoft. It was a bit more of an ivory town, a close wall environment over there.
John: I did have a relationship with some of the execs at Aces but it was never the same sort of refreshing openness that we got with Lockheed. That’s because they were part of a very, very large team that sort of changed their focus. Which is not to say that the PrepareD 3D team isn’t part of a massive multi-national aerospace company. They are.
John: But they’re all pretty enthusiastic, and they seem to have a mandate and a budget, and they are the two things that count. The refreshing thing about it is, you know, the biggest customer for PrepareD 3D, you and your listeners are going to be very surprised to hear this. The biggest customer for PrepareD 3D is not the hobby market, not the training market, not the academic market. It’s Lockheed Martin itself.
John: Most of work that is done in Prepared 3D is because they have projects that they couldn’t talk to us about because they’d-have-to-shoot-us, thosee sorts of projects. They’re all paid for by internal customers who then will sell that to defense, and commercial, and other clients for bespoke projects. The mere fact that Wes and his guys are embracing the consumer hobby academic market is a bonus. It’s a complete bonus. We’re embracing that, you know. For the time being, we’re going to make [Inaudible] [54:24] because here’s a platform that is just looking magnificent, runs well. Finally, the stuff that I’ve been dreaming about that’s on our mission statement can be realized in the sim.
Chris: Great. So that’s the future of PrepareD?
John: Sure, yes. Absolutely.
Chris: Anything else on the horizon for you guys? It sounds like everything’s shifting toward PrepareD. Is there anything else you guys have? You talked about Norway a little bit. Obviously, you’re going to be working on more regions as you go along, improving Global. Is there anything else you can kind of tease us that we haven’t yet heard?
John: Our product strategy has matured to a large extent. What we offer now is we offer the Global Family. We offer the dedicated regions, and we offer high-definition airports. On top of that, we release the occasional aircraft once a year or something like that. That’s our product family.
What we don’t want to do is start even further development and further diversification because as a company, we’ve now refined aircraft. We’re getting very good at producing consistently high-quality immersive airports that, you know, are just every time we release something, I’ve never heard or seen a negative review about anything we’ve produced. The people love it. The press loves it. Why would we do anything now to jeopardize the faith our customers have? Their expectation is that I know when Orbx announces stuff, give us a road map, we know that consistently, everything that is there in that store for me to buy is not going to disappoint me. I can expect the quality that I’ve always gotten used to. We’re going to see incremental little innovations here and there. There’s nothing groundbreaking because, I’ll tell you why, it’s because the vision that I stated nearly eight years ago has been realized now particularly with PrepareD 2.2.
John: We can now execute and continue to execute well to create the environments that we want to experience ourselves eight years ago. If there’s any innovation that we want to go from here, it would be around creating an experience inside an airport. If I want to allude to something that’s been going around in my mind and I’ll tease you with it, if you can imagine Tate getting out of the aircraft, having a full on conversation with an animated person, and having a branched conversation that allows you to take the experience from the cockpit into the FPA or the café or talk to a mechanic while he’s cleaning his cylinder head or something like that.
That is something that I want to achieve. There’s technologies out there that we’re going to explore about how to move to that level because my demographic that I believe follow Orbx passionately are people who are explorers who love the atmosphere of the airport, of landing and walking around and soaking it in. What if we can take that to the next level? So you land in the sim. You get out of the aircraft and then you experience a whole different thing. A little [Inaudible] [58:04]. Yes, there could even be an opportunity for a storyline-based experience to kick in once you add all that, or a mission that you do which is help the fisherman find his lost boat or have conversations with villagers to say, have you heard about the boat that went missing, you know? They’re out there with a float [Inaudible] [58:25] trying to see if the tide’s taken out. These sorts of experiences and I can tell you now there’s going to be customers saying, we want that.
Chris: Yes, definitely.
John: I want to lose myself in this little story line and just have this experience and then say, this is so cool. And then invite my friend around and we’d do it again and experience that mission. That’s what’s going around in summer here. I’m not saying we’re keen to deliver that. I’m trying to think about taking that immersion to the next level. You can probably go about, I’m not that sort of guy that gets a big buzz out of programming in FMC and sitting for 16 hours in the Trans-Pacific. But I’m not being disrespectful to those people because we at FTX Global are trying to cater to that type of flight simulation enthusiast. What I’m about primarily and what a lot of my team are about is that feeling of being there when you almost have the wind going through your hair when you land and just soaking in the environment.
Chris: You guys definitely do that. Time and time again.
John: That’s what it’s about. It’s about fun. It’s about fun. I’m a huge fan of cinema. I go to movies at least once a week, maybe once every two weeks. I’m inspired by beautiful environments and great photography.
John: And that magic hour that you have in some movies where the cinematographer and the director work hand in hand and just create those special moments. It’s those little special moments in the sim that people come in my forums and write about and said, I was doing this and then suddenly the sun was going over the hills and da-da-da-da. We want it to be so that people say, I upgraded to 2.2 and install Squamish. By the way, Squamish. You’re going to love Squamish. I mean it’s close to where you live. It’s been my dream airport that I’ve wanted to design myself for the better part of the decade, and Madison has done an amazing job. I’m expecting customers to say, just landed in Squamish and [Inaudible] [1:00:39] were playing over the water, and I could see the reeds, and birds flying. It’s just one of those moments, you know. That’s what we want to produce for people. We want them to have 15, 20 minutes, half an hour of escapism because most people will never ever get to go to Squamish but we want to give it to them as close as possible, you know.
Chris: That’s one of the great things about what we’re talking about. I find that far too often flight simulation in the forms especially; it’s all about frame rates. It’s all about getting five more frame rates out of tweaking but the realism is in the details. It’s in those little things that get you into an immersive almost subconscious state where you don’t realize to a certain extent that it’s not real.
What I really like about what you’ve said from the last 15 minutes here and kind of what I gather from it, is that this is art for you, and this is what your company does. You guys want to create art. That’s what you do through your sceneries. That’s what we get as an experience as well. We get those magical moments as you said.
John: For sure. I mean the developers on the team are artists. Gerard Marshall is an artist.
Chris: Full blown, yes. No doubt.
John: The stuff he does just I’m in awe of. The thing about Gerard, I’m in awe of the speed of which he creates these expensive airports and whole towns and he throws in a hospital just for good measure. The guy is a wizard. Then you got other guys in the team like Rod Madison who is actually an artist. He understands what art is. He understands the composition of a photo. He understands what people want to see when they land at the airport. But he also understands that people want to go beyond the airport and walk to the town. Walk through the grounds of the university or go down to the docks and see the fishermen unloading their stuff.
I can see a Squamish version 3 in five years from now where you can literally walk to the docks and have a conversation with the locals, have a conversation with the fishermen and hear the clacking of the lines and the masts of the boats, and the crowing of the seagulls, and you go, “heck I’ve just beat the Squamish.”
Chris: Yes, no kidding.
John: It’s like I thought I was a flight simulator enthusiast but what I’m discovering is I’m an explorer.
John: I can’t wait to get another destination that immerses me like what Gordon has shared with me at being an artist. We’ve seen a lot of that stuff in first-person shooters. Yes?
John: Call of Duty, Battlefield. The engines and the way they immerse you is nothing short of gobsmackingly mind blowing.
John: The downside of that these titles are it’s all about killing people.
John: I’m not some greedy pacifist but really, why spend so much time in a beautiful environment where you just spreading blood all over the place. Why not use that energy to let people explore the world in a much more peaceful manner that doesn’t involve blowing things up, you know. That’s what I’m about. Creating an escape for people and taking their flight simulation hobby sort of beyond what they’re used to. Just out of the cockpit and explore things a bit more. If we’re heading in any one direction, it’s that.
Chris: Got it.
John: We’re certainly not going to be doing launching more complex multi-layer product lines, doing stuff or working with a brand new platform, launching our own simulator or any of that. We’re not moving in that direction at all.
Chris: Yes, what you’re doing seems like it’s working, so why fix something that’s not broken, right?
John: That’s what I say. That’s what I say.
Chris: Any final thoughts? We’ve kind of run up against our hour quickly here. Any final thoughts for the listeners?
John: Anybody who hasn’t experienced what Orbx is about, you can go to OrbxSystems.com or FullTerrain.com, they both resolve to the same page. When you click on the Orbx logo, and there’s a little blurb. It’s a little story of how we started. There’s actually a photo of the entire team. Now, if you click on the Orbx logo, you come up with an image of all the guys. You can actually see the faces behind, you know, whose producing this content and read about why we’re different. Anybody here is reading and listening to your stuff because they’re obviously following your training tutorial type of focus at what you do? If you haven’t really experienced Orbx, just go tell the website to the download stuff for free.
John: We’ve got a big chunk of the Pacific Northwest which is free. It includes Bowerman airport, KHQM, which is an amazing airport. It’s got people walking around. It’s got sounds. It’s got animation. You don’t have to pay a cent. Just download it, install it. See for yourself. We’ve got all of Iceland, which you can download as a demo.
Chris: Yes, we encourage people to get that. We had a lot of positive feedback on that. A lot of people like that.
John: Yes, so there’s no pressure from us to buy something to see what it’s like. You can download literally gigabytes of content at actually no cost to you and give it a go. It may not appeal to you. It may appeal to you but we hope that we convince new customers to just check us out. We promise that we’ll continue to create the stuff with the quality that you’re used to. We’ll continue to innovate as much as we can and certainly, PrepareD 3D 2.2. There’s going to be a bunch of cool stuff coming up that will allow us just to be more artistic and take advantage of the environment. Good times, Chris. Good times, indeed.
Chris: I’m excited about what you guys are going to come up with, especially, with PrepareD here. It sounds like you have a lot of great things in the near future.
John, thank you so much for joining us today. I know that because a lot of our listeners are Angle of Attack customers and we fly in your scenery all the time, that’s just what we do, I know a lot of them are going to be so excited to hear from you and hear your side of where you see a simulation going, and also learn a little bit more about Orbx. Again, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.
John: Thanks, Chris. It’s been an absolute pleasure and thank you for inviting me. Really enjoyed it.
Chris: Absolutely. Thanks, John. See you.
John: All the best, goodbye.
How about that fascinating conversation with John? It’s really interesting to get his take on the future of simulation and where it’s going. I also like how immersed John is in this realism in the simulator and how much he wants to recreate this world and really, the art that comes with that. What these guys do is truly art. If you haven’t seen what they do already, I invite you to check that out. He mentioned it a couple of times, but I’ll mention it again here. Go to full terrain dot com. Really simple URL. You’ll see there right away what these guys do and the way their scenery looks is absolutely amazing. One of the cool things and also something that John mentioned is you can try the scenery. They’re not going to beg you for a customer. You can go. You can download a couple of their free packages. Install it yourself and truly experience the difference. There’s nothing more convincing than that. I invite you to do that, again over at full terrain dot com. One thing that I noticed as I was talking to John, I was browsing through his website there. I was scrolling from top to bottom and realized that he has one screen shot of all of these different areas that they’ve done, all of these different airports and I realize that each one of these areas is just absolutely amazing and could be a simulator all on its own. You know we get some of these first person shooters, if you’re a gamer out there. We get some of these first person shooters or really any game for that matter where we have a very limited arena in which the game play happens. Largely, what Orbx does is they create a lot of these arenas. They create these very specific areas like Jackson Hole, like Squamish, the list goes on and on. Redding California, that’s a new one that they have. It just goes on and on. They have all these very immersive arena airports if you will, but it goes outside that. The world is so immersive if you have Orbx around you. Especially, now with what we talked about with Global. Really, really great if you haven’t checked them out, check them out now. Again, huge huge thanks to you, John for joining us on this episode of AviatorCast. I know that our listeners are very appreciative of your insight into the simulator industry and very very grateful for all the work that you’ve done, and how amazing your scenery is, and how that has changed our experience, and the way we enjoy your simulator, so it truly does matter. Thank you on behalf of the AviatorCast listeners.
Say that you want to be a part of the AviatorCast community or leave a comment. You can simply go to AviatorCast.com to join in or write me directly at me@AviatorCast.com, again that’s to join the community or give me some direct feedback. Also, If you don’t want to miss an episode of Aviator Cast, no worries, you can subscribe through e-mail at AviatorCast.com or you can subscribe through iTunes, which is one of our most popular venues. Also, there’s services like Stitcher, YouTube, or SoundCloud. I’ve been publishing the episodes to a lot of different areas. We can outreach this program to as many people as possible because I really think we’re on to something special here. Any of those places, if you don’t want to miss an episode of Aviator Cast, reach out on those and make sure that you are getting it every single week Saturday morning at 000 Zulu. We publish every Saturday at that time and hope that you enjoy that on the time you have off on your weekend. We’d also love to get an honest review from you on iTunes. If you can do that, this helps others learn about Aviator Cast so they can enjoy it as well. Otherwise, they just may not learn about it. If you feel like that would be a shame, please go review Aviator Cast.
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Many thanks also go out to the Angle of attack crew for all their hard work to make these episodes possible, so that you and I can have a blast talking to people like John and all that they do outside of Aviator Cast to make sure that this tiny business keeps running.
Thank you so much for joining us on this episode of AviatorCast. We are truly grateful to have you here, part of our community and so engaged in this wonderful passion for flying things.
Until next time, throttle on.