FOREWORD: Mission Possible!
I think one of the most under-rated features of FSX is its Mission system. Right out of the box, you have dozens of pre-made scenarios from which to choose. Even if you have never flown a virtual aircraft before, there are excellent tutorial Missions that will get you safely into the skies in no time at all. There are scenic missions that show off the beauty and variety of the FSX world. Moreover, if you really need the white-knuckle challenge, you can fly advanced Missions that will test the limits of your nerve and skill as a pilot.
Microsoft even includes free utilities to help you make your own Missions, should you run out of things to do. How hard is it to create your own Mission? Getting from A to B using the Microsoft Mission creator toolkit is about as hard as building your own nuclear reactor from scratch. Or starting a viable space program in your back yard. Or learning to play the violin upside-down while wearing a blindfold, mittens, and earplugs. Okay, Mission design is maybe not quite that hard, but it certainly isn't all that easy. If it was, everybody would be doing it.
I looked at the FSX Mission Editor (FSXME for short) made by Jim Keir for FSAddon Publishing. This product is designed to make Mission creation easier. People who are experienced at Mission creation and who have used FSXME refuse to go back to making Missions without this program. Even the Mission gurus at ACES, Microsoft's internal development team for Flight Simulator products, have nothing but good things to say about FSXME.
So how does using the FSX Mission Editor make creating your own adventures easier? Can it be used by somebody who isn't a computer programmer?
I am not a programmer at all. People who program computers for a living would routinely point at me and laugh (and for a while that kind of hurt, too, but I've come to realize that I really am hopeless with programming languages). So if I can use FSXME with success, then I figure anybody can.
Was it easy? Well, not really. FSXME is a very deep program, and there remain a few features I did not test in time for this review. To do that, I would have to create Missions that would incorporate every single variable that FSX (including Standard, Deluxe, Service Pack 1, Service Pack 2, and Acceleration) has to offer. I am not nearly at that level of experience. This review, then, will have to cover the basics of FSXME as I see them.
INTRODUCTION: Mr. Keir's Wild Ride
The FSX Mission Editor is a "shareware" add-on whose name describes what it does. It's a utility for FSX that will allow you either to edit pre-existing Missions or to create your own. You can download a free version that enables many of the functions from the commercial payware version.
FSXME was born from the almost computer-shattering amount of frustration that developer Jim Keir felt when he tried to create his own Missions using the Microsoft toolkit. To understand FSXME, you also have to understand the toolkit, which can be downloaded as a free supplement to FSX. The core of Mission creation is logical: like a flightplan, you need to set waypoints for your Mission. At each waypoint, you can create events that could effect how the Mission plays out. Your Mission, then, is a list of locations in the FSX world and the events that you want to have happen along the way.
Things get tricky when you try to pile on too many things into your Mission. It's very easy to become disoriented in your list and lose track of what variable must belong to what event, and so forth. On top of that, you have to create a Mission Briefing File in HTML (HyperText Markup Language) before you can run the OPT (Object Placement Tool), because if you don't, the OPT will crash. The whole thing gets rendered out into an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) file that you are expected to make changes to by hand. Did I forget to mention that I know next to nothing about computer languages?
Even if you are a fluent programmer like Jim Keir, the Microsoft Mission Creation software could likely drive you into fits of near insanity the more you try to use it. There is no system in place to check for any errors you might have made. While it may be within reason to come up with a workable XML Mission file, testing it for bugs is only for those with the steeliest nerves and the most ironclad of constitutions. There are literally a million things that could go wrong, and the only way I know to find any of them is to fly your Mission from start to finish over and over again to test all of your event triggers. Heaven help you if you discover a faulty event, and that fixing the fault destroys all of the events that occur after it. You will discover swearing words you never knew were in your vocabulary trying to fix a bug in your landing logic and the only way to get at the problem is to fly your Mission perfectly from start to finish. And it's supposed to be an Expert Level Mission. And it takes place on an intercontinental flight. Oh, boy, are we having fun now!
FSXME does four big things that the original Microsoft tools do not:
1) It creates and compiles your mission files for you, so you don't have to bother with the HTML or the XML files unless you really want to. FSXME has the ability to create licensed copies of your Missions, if you decide you've developed Missions that are worth selling. Or, it can simply package your Mission to look like any of the other FSX Missions, and with a simple Save command, you can almost immediately play your Mission yourself in Flight Simulator.
2) FSXME organizes your Mission elements into chart form. You can click and drag these elements to combine them in any way you like to make your Mission. When you save the chart layout, it automatically generates the Mission XML for you.
3) Of staggering importance to Mission designers, FSXME will automatically try to de-bug your Mission as you lay it out, letting you know the instant you make a mistake. Theoretically, it's possible to make a Mission from scratch in FSXME, catch all of your mistakes before you compile the XML code, and have it fly perfectly in FSX.
4) Lastly, if you need help the way I needed help to start creating Missions, there's a simple Wizard that will guide you to make Missions that take you from Point A to Point B. Using this very simplest of Missions, you can learn to add your own events, and thereby master the FSXME system!
INSTALLATION: "SDK" Does Not Stand For "Shyluk Doesn't Know"!
The FSX Mission Editor is currently freely downloadable from SimMarket. You will need to purchase a software key to unlock all of the FSXME features, however, the free version is more than enough to get most people started into Mission design.
The download is only 8MB, and the entire program expands into 15MB of disk space. There is a great deal of complexity packed into that tiny space!
How easily FSXME will install on your system will depend on your needs and your readiness to create Missions. In my case, the need was to get FSXME running for my review, yet my readiness to create Missions was at or near the zero point: perfect conditions to see whether or not a rookie can handle making Missions like a pro.
To begin with you simply double-click on the Install icon and follow the prompts. The program quickly sets itself up in your computer. For me, during the installation, a progress bar was hidden underneath one of the windows. I thought that the installer had hung, so I re-started it, and accidentally installed FSXME twice. I did no harm, though.
The most complicated part of FSXME's installation is that it takes a couple of minutes to automatically find and read the relevant FSX files. FSXME does not change any FSX files, but it does need to know where to find them. This way, if you make changes to FSX (either you upgrade with Acceleration and/or the Service Packs, or else you add-on third-party software), FSXME is smart enough to understand where to find the new files and how to use them. It's even possible to install FSXME onto a computer that does not use FSX at all. You could create a Mission on another computer and import it into FSX. I did not test this for my review, however.
If you have FSXME, you only have part of what you need. You cannot create Missions without the original Mission Creation Toolkit, which is part of the Microsoft SDK for FSX. SDK stands for "Software Development Kit", although looking at the instruction manuals that come with the SDK, I am convinced it also represents the large, vague area of what "Shyluk Don't Know". I found trying to understand the SDK manuals to be a humbling experience at best. People use this thing and make money enough to live on? Mercy!
If you don't have the SDK, you will need it, although FSXME will run without it. You just won't be able to create proper Mission files for FSX until you have the SDK. The good news is that the SDK is a free download. The bad news is that you have to match the version of SDK to your version of FSX. The more recent your version of Flight Simulator is, the more SDK pieces you will need to cumulatively download and install. In my case, I started without the SDK on my system with FSX plus Acceleration. I had to download and install a few large files. The installation went poorly and the SDK bits got quite confused before they settled down.
The SDK yields the all-important OPT or Object Placement Tool. FSXME does not replace the OPT, rather, it provides an alternate and presumably friendlier interface of accessing the OPT. If you screw up installing the OPT (and there's a number of ways you can do that), then you'll never be able to compile a Mission. One of the fiddliest bits is an ornery little sucker called "dll.xml", which I understand is the driver for the OPT. If it isn't where it thinks it should be (especially if FSX is not installed in the default folder), then you have to go in and manually change the XML in dll.xml to suit its needs.
FSXME can detect if you've goofed when installing the OPT, and it should be able to automatically correct those goofs for you. All I know is that it worked for me, and that was worth the price of admission right there.
FORM & FUNCTION:" India Delta 10 Tango" Proof... Almost
The FSX Mission Editor will help you create Missions for FSX. People who are experienced with Mission Creation should be able to get FSXME going with a minimum of fuss. For people like me who are rank beginners, well, I can say it isn't easy, but it is doable.
Although you don't need any programming language skills, you may need to sharpen your logic. Once again, I will freely admit that I cannot reliably program computers. I will pass on a story about one time that I tried: I was banging away on the keyboard and coming up with some kind of code to customize the application that I was working with. Tech Support guys who were looking over my shoulder and laughing behind my back offered me advice I never forgot.
"Jeff," they said, "Novice programmers like you should always use the 'Eye Dee Ten Tee' heading every time they put an entry into their code. That way, experienced programmers will know to look for the code that you have entered into the system."
"Eye Dee Ten Tee," says I, "I've never heard of that."
"It's a special code. Just type it at the beginning and end of your program." People can be so helpful when they want to be, you know?
So, I spell it out, finish my work, and just as I am about to quit for the day, I see it: Eye Dee Ten Tee spelled out is "ID10T" -- idiot! Well, I felt enough like one after that. And that sums up the skill level of my computer programming abilities.
So is FSXME ID10T-proof? I would almost say yes. The program itself seems to work just fine, and it seems very stable without hogging the resources that FSX needs. It's just that getting used to the workflow of FSXME can be difficult. There is a strong learning curve!
Although the FSXME interface is more intuitive than the Object Placement Tool, there is a lot going on that will seem mysterious until you understand the FSX SDK. FSXME comes with a .PDF manual that runs to 96 pages with illustrations. As a nice touch, you can access the manual as FSXME is running by using the F1 key. The manual does a good job of explaining how to set up FSXME. Much of the rest of the manual explains how Missions are organized within FSXME, as well as a few basic operations.
I found the tutorial elements to be lacking in the manual, though. It was difficult for me as a rookie to find a good place to start. The tutorial involves the "Congo Relief" Mission, which is very complicated and not suited to beginners. I looked at tutorial paragraphs like this:
Judging from the sizes of the AreaRefs attached to the other three triggers, the correct order is “EnrouteKatTrigger", “KatApprRadTrigger”, “KatTrigger” and finally “KatUnloadTrigger”. If you link these together, using new ObjectActivationActions attached to the “OnEnterActions” attribute of the previous trigger, most of the mission will be linked correctly.
And I thought, Man, am I ever in over my head, this isn't for me!
My next step was to look at the FSXME Forum. Again, in a nice touch, you can go directly to the Forum from within FSXME. In the forum, I found that Jim Keir answers a wide variety of questions. I also found there were a few absolute beginners like myself.
From the Forum, I came to understand that I should read the SDK documents. Those come with the SDK, and are not part of FSXME. For the record, I think the SDK manual is fairly well written. It's just that the OPT is hard to use. I didn't have to memorize the SDK, as there is a lot of charts and stuff, but it did help me to understand FSXME a bit better.
Then I saw the light! I realized that with the "Congo" Mission, I was looking at a very complicated document. I needed something very simple to start with. FSXME will automatically generate a simple Mission using the built-in Wizard.
There are two levels to the Wizard. In the freeware version, you can choose a start and end airport, and you get a Mission based on that. You get a briefing, and during the flight, you get text and voice cues that tell you where the next waypoint is (the voices are the computer-generated Microsoft voices, and I will talk more about that later). Enroute, you will see the Mission compass and at the destination, you will see the familiar green arrow marker. If you land at the destination airport, you will successfully conclude the Mission.
In the payware version of FSXME, you can also use a FSX-generated flight plan, so that you have waypoints between the departure and arrival airport, or you can start already in flight. You could enter a STAR (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) for your favourite airport, and the Wizard will generate markers on all of the waypoints.
These Missions are basic, but they do work very well. The Wizard will have you up and flying in almost no time at all.
Better still, you can bring any Mission XML code into FSXME to edit it. So instead of the "Congo" Mission, where I did not understand things like "KatApprRadTrigger", I created a small flight with the Piper Cub across a few grass airstrips in the Canadian prairies where I knew exactly what the waypoints were. Then, I brought it into FSXME.
I finally found the menu item "ACTION PALETTE", which provides a complete list of triggers and events in FSX. The FSXME manual was a little imprecise about this menu, possibly because I use Windows XP instead of Vista. Still, I figured it out.
I should mention that the Action Palette has an option to rename the events into "Friendly Names". That's because something like the OPT trigger "AllowableContainerList" can in FSXME be renamed to something more descriptive for beginners, like "Allowed Multiplayer Aircraft". Even better, you can customize the Friendly names, so if you were fluent in French, you might want "Avions Multijoueurs Permis" instead.
In my little Mission, I decided that it would be a good idea to include a remark to give the right rudder a kick on take-off. This is because the Piper Cub in FSX tends to yaw when you add a lot of throttle, and I would counter this action with the rudder. I used the Action Palette to create a new node in the Mission.
Nodes are discrete boxes of text that describe the events. Nodes are connected with black lines, so you can see the exact progression of events. Nodes can have multiple connections. To attach one node to another, you just drag and drop it into place with your mouse.
My new node was a trigger. When the ground speed went above 20 knots, the trigger would fire once. I connected the trigger to a dialogue box. The dialogue is printed on the screen and spoken aloud by the computer. You can have any dialogue you desire. I had the computer remind me to apply right rudder and to stay on the runway heading until the Cub climbed high enough to see the next waypoint.
Now I was really starting to get into Mission creation! This is the heart of the whole experience: you set up a basic outline, and then you add to it one piece at a time. Now that I know how to add one trigger, I can certainly add another and another. I can pile on events as I see fit.
Every event, effect, trigger, and special action that FSX is capable of can be called on in FSXME. I can generate system failures, I can set up a race, or I could create special camera views. I could create an airshow with AI aircraft and try to fly a routine like Kent Pietch (who I believe is the inspiration for the FSX "Loopy Larry" Mission). He does a comedy routine in a small monoplane where his gyrations cause an aileron to fall off. FSXME will allow objects to be dropped from aircraft using a trigger. I could set up a custom Cinematic Camera to show the event, and then cause a limited failure specific to the wing to simulate the loss of the aileron.
Some triggers are easier to use than others. I found it was best to start with the Wizard-generated Missions, and just add a few nodes. Once you have a grounded understanding of the FSXME system, then you can look at editing larger Missions like "Loopy Larry" or "Congo Relief".
When you create a Mission in FSXME using a Wizard, your Mission will come with its own voices. Typically, FSXME will choose one of the computerized Microsoft voices. Using a custom node, you can add any text you like, and the voice will read your text out loud when triggered to do so. The idea is that the computer voice acts as a placeholder for when you record your human voice for the final cut of your Mission.
A computer voice is a good choice because it simulates the time it takes to hear the text as it is being read. That way you know that your voice timing will work properly in the Mission. Without a voice, you just have to guess.
Nothing is stopping you from keeping the computer voice in your Mission. If you have better quality voices, you can use them. For instance, I have AT&T Crystal and Mike, who sound a lot more realistic than Microsoft Mike, Mary, or poor, poor Sam. FSXME had no trouble at all using the AT&T voices. Users with Vista may have different technical issues with the voices than XP users, but it all works out rather well.
Of course, the best voices are human ones. You can record your own dialogue and easily import it into your Mission with FSXME. FSXME will also generate a script that you can print out for your voice actors that includes all of the dialogue text in your Mission. Strangely, I was limited to using the Windows Recorder that is built into XP to do all of my recording. FSX has certain strict limits regarding what sort of audio it can handle, so depending on whether you use XP or Vista may affect how you record the voices. I believe that you can put the voice files through another audio mastering program to sweeten the sound file (and you'd probably want to, if you want the best sounding voices), but the original recording had to come from Windows Recorder.
FSXME will also play audio cues on command; you set them up in much the same way that you import your voices into the Mission. That way, for example, if you wanted the sound of an engine blowing up due to a bird strike, you could easily include that just before you trigger the engine failure and smoke trails in your Mission.
FSXME largely does its debugging in real-time as you work. If you make some massive error, the affected node gets an obvious red box. A cautionary orange box appears around nodes that could potentially cause confusion in the Mission, typically when you have incomplete information in the node. A pale blue box surrounds nodes where you are making a style error. Style errors don't usually affect the Mission. More than anything, to me they indicate a certain sloppiness or lack of obsessive organization within the node structure.
If you import a Mission, you can ask FSXME to debug it. You can also fly the Mission in FSX and ask FSXME to analyze the Mission for bugs using SimConnect (which is built into FSX). That way, you can find errors in your triggers that look correct on paper, but for whatever reason just don't work in the Mission. For those really big Missions with hundreds of triggers, this feature can really help save time and effort.
If you are like me, you are happy if FSXME puts the Mission into the right location for FSX to use it. In XP, that's not so much of a problem, but in Vista there are problems when you write Mission data, as FSX keeps its Missions in Vista's protected folders. Jim Keir provides clear instructions for how to avoid problems here.
If you have the urge to share your Mission, then you have more work ahead of you. A Mission must be packaged so that other people can use it. This can be tricky, as more advanced versions of FSX have features the older versions do not. For example, Acceleration has an aircraft carrier that you can launch from, and FSX Deluxe Edition has flyable aircraft like the Maule Orion, whereas the Standard Edition does not. If you create a Mission that has features that are more advanced than the destination copy of FSX (for example you include the carrier, but your audience doesn't have Acceleration), then that Mission will not work properly.
Packaging the Mission with the OPT is a real chore. Using FSXME, Mission packaging can be largely automatic. It generates default briefings and endings that are fully customizable. The user will have to edit the HTML files, but since the briefings and endings are already properly formatted, all you really need to do is replace the default images and text with your own, if you want to. You can also automatically set the difficulty level of your Mission and generate custom Rewards for the ending.
The core of the Mission packaging system is called the MSI Creator. A MSI is an executable file that contains all of the Mission data: if you want to share your Mission, all you have to do is distribute the MSI file, which should then install itself automatically. Sim captains who receive your MSI file are not required to have a copy of FSXME to run the Mission.
The MSI Creator has a straightforward interface, but it does control some very powerful functions. I must warn you that you must understand completely how the MSI Creator works before you attempt to run any advanced set-ups. It is possible for the MSI Creator to corrupt your FSX files, making it unusable!
Making your own MSI file involves three basic steps. The first is to create a SPB file. From what I can tell, a SPB file is a compressed version of the XML code that FSX needs to run a Mission. FSX reads SPB and XML equally well, but SPB loads faster and isn't as easy for most humans to read.
The next step is to create the MSI file. In many cases, this is a straightforward operation, but you can try advanced techniques like adding custom Mission resources, or compiling more than one Mission into the file. I did not try any advanced methods for my review, though. I stuck to the basic functions, just to make sure it all works as advertised.
The final step is to create a software key for you Mission. This is optional, but it does provide some protection in case you want to sell your Missions for money. The key code generator makes unique alphanumeric keys much like you would see for most downloadable payware software. My first gripe with the key generator was that I could not use copy and paste functions to enter the key into the target field. My second gripe is that the key can use the letter O and the number 0 as well as the letter I and the number 1, which look a lot alike and can create confusion. If you don't like the key generator, you don't have to use it, or else the MSI Creator can be configured to use a different key generator that you may currently own.
If (or when) you discover a mistake in your Mission after you distribute it, the MSI Creator can create patch files (or Service Packs, if you prefer, or a Feature Implementation eXtention - "FIX") to solve the problem. The patch gets an incremental number (Congo1.1, for example), which is built into a file that will automatically install itself over your previous MSI. Creating a patch involves modifying the MSI Creator itself, but this is a complicated operation. Jim Keir provides clear instructions on how to do this, however I decided not to try to patch any of my Missions for the sake of this review.
Using SimConnect with FSXME can be very advanced, and right now this is outside of my Mission creation abilities. The best I can do is report on how SimConnect could be implemented in your Mission. Basically, SimConnect is built into FSX as an interface between the Flight Simulator and outside products. That way, an add-on can make a discrete call to the FSX control system and get a specific result. For instance, you might have two Missions that are to be played back-to-back. Maybe it's a rescue operation, and the first Mission is the inbound flight and the second Mission is the outbound flight. For the second Mission, you need to know the damage state and fuel remaining from the previous Mission. SimConnect can be used to keep track of those variables.
FSXME can use SimConnect to activate a large number of special functions that go beyond the regular Mission triggers. I found the SimConnect variables to be complicated to use, but I can see where they might be helpful. Among other things, you can use these variables to adjust simulation rates, date, time, and weather (to a certain extent), or to create a controlled fuel leak that will allow you to predict when the fuel will run out. You can also ask SimConnect to keep track of Mission status and to generate reports on success or failure. These techniques are outside my current pay grade though, and may not appeal to casual users.
COMPATIBILITY ISSUES: XP, Vista, & Instant Mission Maker
FSXME was created on Vista, and so it should be compatible with that operating system. Vista is very protective of files, so Vista users will have to learn how to create Missions and save them properly. Jim Keir provides specific instructions on how to accomplish this. I don't use Vista, so I can report that FSXME seems to work just fine on XP. Some parts of the manual seem to be Vista-specific, and so some things were not found on my XP version where I expected to find them. However, a little exploration solved those issues for me.
Recently, Flight 1 Software released a comparable program called "Instant Mission Maker" (IMM). I don't have this add-on myself, but it is important for this review because it does many of the same things that FSXME does. Even more specifically, Jim Keir has adjusted FSXME so that you can import, debug, and edit IMM files.
The big difference I see between FSXME and IMM is that IMM appears to be simpler, more geared to beginners, and above all uses a powerful graphical user interface to visually place objects and triggers directly into FSX. Jim Keir tells me that FSXME and IMM share about 75% common functionality. FSXME has a more powerful suite of triggers, supports a wider range of FSX versions, uses a strong debugging system, and has the ability to package key-coded MSI files. FSXME, in my opinion, could benefit from a stronger visual interface. In particular, if you want to place non-trigger objects in FSX, you will still need to use the OPT, which means that you need to learn something of the SDK documents. With IMM, I believe you don't need prior SDK knowledge to get started.
Since Jim Keir has made IMM files compatible with FSXME, creative Mission artists may just want to have both applications on hand!
CONCLUSION: Executive Summary
FSX Mission Editor is an add-on that will help you create Missions for FSX. While Microsoft does provide free tools for Mission creation in FSX, their editor is difficult to set up and to use, and it also has numerous bugs and documentation errors. FSXME is also rather complicated, but it does streamline much of the workload for Mission creation. What could take weeks to do with the Microsoft default tools might just take days to accomplish with FSXME.
The FSX Mission Editor does four things much better than the default Microsoft editor:
1) FSXME will create and compile your Mission files automatically. This reduces the time and effort it takes to "package" a Mission, should you choose to share it with others. You can even create a software protection key that will help keep your Missions from being pirated, should you decide to sell them for money.
2) FSXME uses a data flow chart system to arrange the elements of your Mission, which are called "nodes". Nodes can be dragged and dropped to create sequences of events, and are freely editable. Any action that is portrayed in FSX, including special effects, voice cues, damage modeling, visible waypoints, and so on, can be called upon using FSXME. Even special SimConnect commands are available for those who want advanced controls over the Mission events. Unfortunately, object model placement isn't directly supported in this version of FSXME, but the free Object Placement Tool in FSX co-operates reasonably well with FSXME.
3) FSXME comes with a powerful set of easy-to-use debugging tools. Often, a mistake will show up in your flow chart as a colour-coded box, making it easy to diagnose and fix problems in Missions. Any XML Mission file can be edited with FSXME, including the Missions that come with FSX and Acceleration (in the SDK). You can even import files from Flight 1's Instant Mission Maker utility.
4) FSXME has a simple yet powerful Mission Creation Wizard. Use the speedy Wizard to create basic point-to-point Missions. Beginners can use these simple Missions as a tool for learning how to add and edit nodes. A hop from Barcelona to Cannes becomes a lot more exciting by adding just one node that introduces an engine failure!
The FSX Mission Editor is compatible with Vista and XP. You can use it to edit Missions from FSX, FSX+SP1, FSX+SP2, and FSX+Acceleration. You don't even have to install FSXME on a computer with FSX to edit Missions, although that helps. To get the most out of FSXME, you should also install the free SDK that matches your version of FSX. FSXME will automatically adjust the dll.xml file for the SDK if you happen to install it incorrectly as I did.
Using FSXME is by no means the easiest thing I have ever done in FSX. I found the learning curve to be steep, especially since the tutorial instructions seemed to be hopelessly complex. However, there is an active forum to help absolute beginners get their start, and product support is very good. Be prepared to do a lot of studying. If you know you can persevere, you can break through the knowledge barrier of this product. I feel that FSXME is a deep and involving product that should appeal to anybody with a serious interest in Mission creation for FSX.
As with the many of the very best offerings for FSX add-ons, you can try out FSXME before you buy it. There are two versions: a freeware download that has most of the user functions enabled and a payware version that includes a more powerful Wizard as well as advanced utilities like the MSI Creator that automatically compiles your Mission into a package that is easy to share with your fellow fight sim captains.
THE FINAL WORD: Q & A With Jim Keir
Jim Keir from FSAddon Publishing is the author of the FSX Mission Editor. I wasn't too sure what to expect when I first contacted him, as my initial impressions of FSXME was that this program would be too hard for me to review. Mr. Keir, it turned out, was completely enthusiastic about his product -- anything that would improve on the default FSX Mission creation toolkit was like pure gold for him -- and very understanding about how beginners approach the difficult problem of creating their own Missions. His is very happy to share his thoughts on the product with AVSIM:
Q: Jim, where did the initial concept of your FSX Mission Editor come from?
A: I was getting heartily fed up of the inability of the MS Object Placement Tool (OPT) to check missions, and its clunky interface. This was during the FSX beta, when things were still changing slightly. I spent weeks in one case trying to work out why my test mission wouldn't load, getting no help at all from the application. I also found it very difficult to visualize what was going on, with only lists available.
Originally I wanted a little program to syntax-check the mission, and it just grew from there. It was mostly just a series of thoughts on what would save me time in building, and more importantly debugging, a new mission. I wanted to augment the OPT, not replace it.
Q: Who do you see as your target demographic for FSXME?
A: I wanted to enable complete novices to at least try to put something together, who would have been completely put off by even installing the OPT let alone actually using it. I believed that there would be a community of real-world pilots out there who had stories to tell, but who didn't think they had the technical skills to tell them using FSX. I also wanted to help out the techies with the more advanced features - debugging in particular, that saved me a huge amount of time when I was testing a mission out. Last, I wanted to get this into other companies, for example those producing aircraft. Wouldn't it be good to get a set of missions when you buy a 3rd party plane, which are tailored for it? Something which leads you through familiarizing yourself with the plane, then showing it off in different ways. You'd be buying an experience, not just a new 3D model. The idea was that using this editor instead of just the OPT you could reduce the time-to-market for a mission, making it cost-effective to bundle half a dozen with an aircraft without increasing the cost much.
Q: (Special Note: When I asked Jim this question, it was before Microsoft announced that it was disbanding their ACES simulation division. While the future of any ACES-developed product remains to be seen, including any upcoming release of Flight Simulator or Train Simulator, I think Jim's reply is still important for us!) I've noticed on the FSDeveloper website that the ACES team is very enthusiastic about FSXME. How do you feel about that?
A: The ACES team have been really good about this, giving me moral support from time to time and generally talking it up. It was their suggestion originally that I change to support ESP and TrainSim2 when that comes out. ESP's about ready, and I've written it in a way which will allow me to change easily to work against other things based on ESP, so TS2 should be possible.
Q: What can you tell me about your work to make FSXME compatible with Flight 1's Instant Mission Maker?
A: I didn't know anything about IMM until it came out, but I don't see why the two products should ignore each other. It turned up a bug in FSXME I hadn't spotted, which I fixed immediately. I've got another update which will do some minor formatting of the mission in FSXME based on the comments in the IMM code. I haven't tried IMM myself yet - busy with ESP - but from what I hear it's more aimed at getting complete beginners started. That's great, it's obviously something I didn't do well enough. Isn't it annoying though, when one product does 75% of what you want and another product does a different 75% of what you want and you can't get the information from one to the other? Reading the XML created by IMM and using it to put in comments and formatting was a minor change, but hopefully it will save people some time and help to show novices how IMM's building blocks map on to Microsoft's mission actions.
What's to stop people getting IMM and using that to put together a framework and them using FSXME to debug it, test it, change things, add things that IMM's packaged actions can't do and then compile an MSI to deliver it? IMM does stuff that FSXME doesn't, and vice-versa. Of course, you could always do pretty much the same thing with a good set of FSXME Recipes at half the price!
Q: Finally, what can you tell me about the SimConnect commands. I'm not a FSXME power-user yet, so I admit I don't understand them all that well.
A: That's the extension code that comes with the editor, even the freebie. I found that there were several things I wanted to do which the mission system didn't allow for, but it did allow for extra commands to be plumbed in. Each time I just couldn't work out how to do something with the standard commands, I wrote a new one. The most significant of these was the ability to pass data between missions. Say mission one of a series gives you a choice, and you can finish it in two different ways or with different degrees of success. This could be passed into a second mission which changes accordingly; maybe certain paths are closed to you, and others opened, depending on how you did in the first.
OK, one more point. These additional commands are usable through the editor, kind of like macros in other programs. The editor is written to allow other companies to add their own custom mission commands. So, let's say an aircraft designer adds a special gauge or ability to their plane. They could give mission designers the ability to interact with it using SimConnect, and then write a macro for FSXME to allow people to use it visually from within the editor. It would be nice to see some more support from the folks writing things enhancing weather or ATC, as well as aircraft, allowing mission writers to access their special features.
What I Like About FSX Mission Editor
What I Don't Like About FSX Mission Editor
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved