As is the case in real world aviation, an increasing number of aeroplanes being released for our virtual skies will need somewhere to land. I came across UK2000 a while ago whilst satisfying my curiosity on the artistry and creativity of people involved in Virtual Aviation. The feedback shows frame-friendly airports with lots of detail and a quality that is top notch.
So I contacted Gary at UK2000, and asked if he would like to have an informal chat with Avsim, so we could meet the man behind the scenery, he was only too happy to obligue!
Q - Gary, welcome to Avsim...you are a well known personality in the Sim world, you have been around a few platforms and products, can you tell us about yourself? Where do you come from, how did you start in the Hobby?
I was born in Portsmouth ( south of England), but now living in South west Scotland, and knocking on my late 40s. I was an FS fan from the start using the Sublogic Atari ST version, my very first scenery was to hack a runway number in the Japan add-on changing one of the lines, an absolutely pointless thing to do, but I just wanted to see if I could change it.
Back in them days, ‘extra high detail addon’ meant you got runway numbers and a runway centre line instead of a rectangle, wow!. If you were really lucky the airport would have taxiway polygon - double wow!, surprisingly FS fans enjoyed a 4 line runway back in 1996 and believed you can actually fly a plane, we can all laugh at it now!
Q - UK2000..how did it start and when? Was there a project in mind to begin with? What was the blueprint for UK2000?
It was with FS98 that my first serious attempt at making scenery starting when I made freeware Exeter and Southampton airport addons. At that time there was an UK airfield product for FS98 that had been around for a few years and I was disappointed by this purchase and thought I could do better than that. So I tried to do so using SCASM FS code. To start with, I chose the Channel islands, Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney(UK2000 Scenery Part1), this was going to be my test product.
It was released in October 1999 and slowly but surely sales increased to about 100 over the next year. It was not a massive success as I was no good at advertising (still not!), but was enough to convince me to get on with Part2- Southwest England and Part3 - Southeast England. At the time I was still working as a CNC programmer for a sheet metal work company, but when Part2 and Part3 were released in October 2000, I realised I could quit my Job and go professional which I soon did when Part4 and 5 were released. All 8 Parts covering England and Wales were made between 1999-2005, updated as FS2000,FS2002 and FS2004 were released.
Q - How big was the team then and how has it changed to present? What skill set is necessary to join the UK2000 team?
The “Team” is me, the wife, plus half a dozen volunteer forum members who help with certain tasks, in particular Norman who makes all my AFCAD files for free and I cant thank him enough for this.
Q - What skill set is necessary to join the UK2000 team?
Work for nothing and don't argue with me (LOL)
Q - Your FS2002 range, looking back, how successful was it in your eyes, what would you change if you had your time again?
If you are referring to the old range (parts1-8) they were successful, yes it could be made 1000% better today using my improved skills, but you work with your current skill set, so no, nothing would have changed based on the same skill level. Only regret was dealing with a certain publisher (year 2001) who ripped me off ( I got 80pence for £30 RRP product) I will not mention names, but only shows that there are many vultures out there willing to prey on start up developers, there were others as well who tried to get a slice of the cake.
Q - FS2004, was it possible to "port over" some products from FS2002 or did you have to start from scratch? What was your signature product in FS2004?
All my early work was converted to the latest sim, actually most of the code worked straight off anyway, but certain things had to be remade.
Q - FSX and you showcase the "Xtreme" range (also available for FS2004), currently you show 16 airports on offer at the moment, what sets you apart from other scenery developers? What is the selling point of the Xtreme range?
I’m not the sort of person to hype my own work, so I can’t say my work is any better that any other high detail airport, I always leave it up to others to pass judgement and I get on making them to the best of my ability and hope people like it. As with all developers you get better over time and things get replaced or improved. I use a ‘system’ for a certain period of time and then update that system. Most of my current airports were made using my system7, but after Leeds and Luton are released a new improved system8 will be made, and used on the next batch of airports or remakes. I think the thing that is different from all other developers is that I don't use conventional tools like Gmax or 3DMAX, all my work is made using Anim8or (www.anim8or.com). This 3D software is very easy to use. Yes I can use GMAX, but I find it awkward and time consuming, Anim8or is fast and productive. The clever part is I make my own tools to convert Anim8or files in the FS Scenery, these include scripts files, for example I can generate taxiway light models on top of the centre lines with one click.
Q - What is involved in creating an airport in the "Xtreme" range? Do you have to personally visit the site? what resources and materials are needed?
I used to visit a lot of airfields, but today it’s far easier to get research photos from websites like Bing and Google. There are also sites like Airliners.net and Plane spotter websites that can have airport photos. Today I only visit an airport if something is new. I get my aerial images from a special licence source and airport timetables to decide what static aircraft models to add.
Q - What is the goal-being a scenery developer and concentrating on UK scenery- for your products, crispness of scenery, resolution, replicate the real world, or performance on an "average" pc? how do you go about measuring and achieving these?
Certainly the airport scenery must be usable on the average PC, basically if 5 users comment they get good to excellent FPS and one says it’s bad, then I know I’ve done my job right. You never satisfy all users in regards to FPS, because a lot of users just turn up all the sliders, have 100+AI and then blame my scenery for the poor performance. My aim is to get 60%-70% FPS compared to the default scenery at any given setting but WITHOUT AI active. I do try to duplicate the airport as faithfully as I can to satisfy users rather than myself. Personally I don't care if missed out a porta toilet or my approach lights legs are yellow and not grey. You’d be amazed at some comments I get regarding the small details . One thing that I don't agree with is a lot of users asking to model objects that are never seen from the cockpit, you are meant to be flying a plane not driving around the drop off zone, I do compromise and add a certain amount of ‘unseen’ objects to please these users.
Q - Your scenery (for what I understand) comes with a small mesh for the area you are showcasing...how does it integrate with other third party meshes? Do you do any work to make sure there is compatibility? are there steps or is it more an less "standardised"?
The FSX mesh we use is a sloping blend mesh to help reduce the ‘cliff’ effects you can get around airport. This mesh is made to blend into most high res mesh add-ons. All mesh add-ons should be similar as they all get the same data.
Q - How do you decide which airport or area to produce next? What drives your market research?
Rule number 1: Big airports sell, little ones dont!
I found this out with my VFR Airfields, this product has 80 airfields for the price of one big airport, good deal yes, but do people buy it?, no! . Ok the quality and detail level of VFR airfields is a lot lower, but don't think this is the reason. Most FS users fly big planes into big airports, it must be an ego thing? So little airfields are just not that popular.
Eventually I will run out of big UK airports, and I may start making US airfields.
Q - How do you decide how far out (area-wise) you are going to simulate?
I try to keep to within the airfield itself and not get distracted by modelling things outside that you are not meant to see close up while flying into an airport. Yes big buildings and sheds should be modelled if they form a part of the near approach.
Q - You seem to have "bundles" on offer plus seasonal sales, can we expect more of the same next year? is there a set time we should look for releases or special offers?
There’s no set time scale for sales, this may be my last one ever, so buy now!
Q - Will you support other platforms? XPlane? P3D?
This will only happen if the demand is there, 3 requests for Xplane in 3 years in not high enough for me. Yes I’m sure if I made Xplane scenery it would sell, but my time is limited and to make an X-plane version would tie up a lot of time for little reward and as far P3D, this is 99% FSX anyway and I believe my airports work with it. I don't have P3D, so I’m only quoting from users who have tried.
Q - What can we expect from UK2000 in 2013?
For certain there will Luton and Leeds Xtreme, then a new updated Heathrow V3, and possible a Version 2 of VFR airfields
Gary, a pleasure to meet you, an artist indeed!
Keep an eye out for the new releases folks, more quality and variety are on the way.