REX - A developer whose name is directly associated with some of the very best weather and terrain textures to grace our monitors...what do we know about them? Sure, there are a lot of simmers out there who, like me, have heard and seen those amazing colours, clouds, concrete textures, etc, and no doubt, would be extremely pleased at the continued evolution of their flagship product, but who are the artists behind REX?
Naturally I sent them a quick email and asked if they would like to introduce themselves to the Avsim public, and I was very pleased to receive a very enthusiastic response from Reed Stough and Tim Fuchs, who gave me their precious time whilst supporting their product and launching expansions.
Q - Tim/Reed, many thanks for your time...let's travel back in time a little....your view of the flight simulator hobby when REX started, what was the "trigger point", what decided your team to create REX, why a weather engine?
We were very excited about where Flight Simulation was going and we felt that the area that could use a facelift was the area of environmental textures and weather. REX was a combination of two companies into one which lead to the development of Real Environment Xtreme. Tim was the lead developer of the environmental texture side of the program and I was the lead developer of the weather module. We felt that the weather engine was key to making sure that the textures were being used properly, so that the user would have the most realistic experience possible.
Q - Ok, back all those years, what/who was your main competitor? What was the "field" like? What was the strategy/guideline for REX? How has it changed over time?
We have had many competitors over time. It has always been a very competitive market. Our strategy has always been to be the best at what we do and to always keep striving to push to give our current and new customers the best and most realistic experience possible within Flight Simulation.
Q - Your very first product...Looking back now, how satisfied are you? Technology notwithstanding, is there anything you would change and why?
It is our goal to always look forward and in that always strive to improve on what we have done in the past. One could spend years always looking at the past wishing this or that. We are constantly looking at our strengths and weaknesses as a company and are trying to improve daily.
Q - What challenges/benefits did you have between the FS9 and FSX platforms?
There are huge differences when it comes to texture development and weather injection processes. In some cases we view FS9 as a more stable platform. Because Microsoft cut the strings on FSX, we feel it has never really reached its prime and some things are left incomplete; specifically, in relation to the development of Simconnect. It would have been interesting to see where FSX would be now if they would have continued that project.
Q - Any differences to the X-Plane offering? Is the resolution the same? Any restrictions? Or enhancements from the platform?
Development for X-Plane is completely different from FS9/FSX. In some cases the development for textures was easier X-Plane 9, than in FS9/FSX. However, the process to inject weather has some obstacles to overcome. The developers at Laminar have been great to help us out. We are looking forward to seeing what we can do with X-Plane 10.
Q - What is the current roadmap for FS9? Any new products/enhancements? What about ongoing support for the older versions?
Our company will continue to support REX products for FS9. We are presently developing REX SIMAIR which can be used with FS9 as well as with FSX and Prepar3D. FS9 continues to be a vibrant platform with lot of potential.
Q - Let's concentrate on the FSX version, REX was louded as the benchmark for sky/cloud/runway/water/light (and many other) textures, and for quite a while you were very much on your own in this field. May sound like a silly question, but was the original intent to actually have textures as your high point or was it always seen as just part of the package? At what point did you guys decide on this direction?
We have never been alone in this market. We have always viewed the textures as a part of the whole package. This has been our perspective from day one. The textures are what you see in the flight sim. So the other parts of the package have been built to enhance what you see. Our direction from day one and even now is to provide the best environment possible as a whole within Flight Sim.
Q - Your original weather engines were quite functional, I thought they were easy to use and suited my flying, can you tell us how your weather engine evolved from the original REX to REX2.0? What were the original challenges in this regard, what allowed you to improve on them, what sort of research, testing and development is necessary to produce a weather engine?
Our original version of REX and even REX 2 only used downloaded weather files from NOAA directly. The only archive mechanism was what the user had downloaded in the past and was stored on their machines. We had to compute upper level wind and temperatures aloft. REX Essential Plus is a completely different beast. We have spent the last three years developing a platform to house weather data from several resources. We call this platform our REX Edge Technology. Every 15 minutes we pull data from NOAA and Vatsim and store it for use. We also download and store the weather balloon data from across the world twice a day.
We are constantly looking at better ways to give a more realistic weather experience. However, since FS9 and FSX are no longer being supported or enhanced, the challenge is to see how to overcome the limiting factors of the internal engines of the sim.
Q - Some of the biggest nightmares for a sim pilot are large changes in wind direction and/or speed, sudden changes in visibility, inaccurate weather data, inaccurate weather depiction. Your product produces great textures for cloud but has been singled out for problems with wind depiction. What is the challenge here? Is it the way you process the data? Is it the coding? What changes have you been working on for the past 12 months in this regard?
I am not sure why we are always being singled out in this area. It is clear this is not just a REX related issue, but really related to the internal workings of the weather platform of FSX. This has been well documented over time even before we jumped into the arena. It really comes down to look verses realism. It is not possible to have the realistic look of smooth transitioning wind and visibility without having to change the data elements. Because of this you lose the realism of accurate data. To have the most accurate data you lose the smooth transitions. There is presently no way to overcome this problem within FSX with the way the weather engine presently works.
The other challenge is that you as a developer are having to interject weather data through an outside tunnel using Simconnect or FSUIPC. Even though these tools are extremely helpful, using an outside process always opens doors for error. We have documented on numerous occasions during alpha and beta testing where we interject the correct data, but what we get in Flight Sim is completely different or off by several degrees.
We believe we have been able to pin point the area in relation to how FSX/FS9 handles the interpolation of weather between stations. One of our staff is currently writing a paper outlining these issues. We feel as we get a better grasp of this relationship we will be able to overcome some of these issues associated with the internal workings of the Flight Sim. This we feel is the main cause of inaccuracy. We know what data is downloaded and what data is interjected. When we compare it to what data comes out of FSX, we are left scratching our heads going how did it come up with that.
Q - Speaking of the changes, some of the feedback I read states you are definitely listening to your customer and making changes...which leads to other feedback from people who are confused about your large portfolio of products and how they relate to one another...are you able to please give us a chronological list of your products, what came first, what came next, what is an update, what is a standalone product, all until present time?
Each product listed has been developed as a standalone version. We presently provide upgrades for users of REX 2 and REX 2 + Overdrive to REX Essential Plus and REX Essential Plus Overdrive.
Q - Your REX Essential/Overdrive offering, the screenshots I have seen look as impressive as ever. What is the path you are taking with Overdrive? Are there more texture expansions coming up? What about other simulator platforms?
The REX Essential Plus line of products now include the REX Download Center. Any new textures, effects, upgrades, or enhancements we release will be provided through the Download Center. This allows us to release content to our customers much faster than having to create a new patch.
Q - From a weather injection point of view, what are the differences between the different platforms? FS9? FSX? P3D? XPlane?
With FS9 the only method presently available to inject weather is via FSUIPC. Peter has done a great job expanding and documenting this process. FSX and P3D use the same process via Simconnect. However, you can also use FSUIPC, but we chose to use Simconnect. XPlane 9 although is much simpler, it is not always reliable. We have enhanced the metar for XPlane to make the clouds we created more robust within the sim.
Q - Speaking of injecting weather, no doubt you are aware of the limitations found by aircraft developers attempting to have a weather radar. Speaking as a developer whose field is exactly that, will we ever see a weather engine that can produce the type of weather that can be coded and read by a third party weather radar? Is there a simulator platform that can support this?
As far as I am aware of there are several weather radar products on the market that do a pretty good job. Captain Sim’s weather radar being one of them. I don’t think we will see this area expand in that the platforms are not changing. The only platforms we may see this grow is with XPlane or Prepar3D.
Q - What is the roadmap for the future? What can we expect from the REX team?
The current roadmap for Flight Simulation in 2013 is the release of REX SIMAIR and a second expanded version of REX Latitude. Our company has development plans up to 3 years out. However, we're not at liberty to expand upon that at this time.
Q – What sort of research do you do regarding usage of the weather engines for the different Flight Simulators? The different aircraft used in FS9/FSX/P3D and how they interact/react to your program? What can we expect in the future in regards to enhanced interaction with different add-ons?
It seems like every day there is a new add-on or aircraft coming out for each platform. This is great in that it keeps the industry alive. Therefore, each new add-on adds challenges. We have to purchase each add-on and test our product with it to make sure there is no harsh interactions. So far we have been able to adjust accordingly without a lot of changes to our products. In regards to the future, again that is a part of our business plan which we like to keep pretty close to our chest.
Q - Your recent release of "Latitude", can you tell us more about the concept? Is this the start of a new line of development for REX? How did you come to the conclusion that Latitude was a viable add on for the market?
Latitude is the brain child of our developer John Szatmary. He has done a brilliant job of putting together the details behind Latitude. John is a real world pilot and longed for flight sim to “feel” more like real flying. Latitude accomplishes this by reviewing and evaluating your flights as if you had an instructor sitting right next to you.
We see a huge future in Latitude. The goal is to expand Latitude to make it even more multiplayer expansive. Though there is that concept now within Latitude, we are working to make it visible within Flight Sim. As far as the market goes, we feel Latitude is in a niche all by itself with lots of room to grow.
Q - In your own words, what can we get out of Latitude? Why should the simmer look at the product and believe this is for them?
It is easy to just start flight sim and go. Latitude brings a realism in the sense it evaluates your flying abilities according to real world parameters. At first you may go – “well I thought I was better than that.” As you continue to fly with Latitude you will be driven to want to do better. Especially, as you see your fellow pilots around you improving. Eventually you will be seeing your friends fly with you within Flight Sim via Latitude!
Q - Can we expect further expansions to Latitude itself? Other programs to complement it?
Definitely yes! We are currently working on version 2 of Latitude. In this version we will be expanding the multiplayer experience. We mean “EXPERIENCE” in which you will be able to see your friend sitting next to you on the tarmac within Flight Sim. You should be hearing more about Latitude 2 in the next few months. As far as other programs complementing Latitude, our goal as a company is to build a platform in which our products can 'talk' and interact together. So the answer is “yes” there will be programs or features to existing programs that complement Latitude.
Many thanks guys, wish you all the very best for the future.
This is great news folks, our virtual skies will be full of quality for a long time to come yet! Enjoy!