Airport Madness Pro Development: Part 2

Airport Madness Pro is a game that I can’t wait to play.  This is the fancy name I’ve given to my next development, but inside my head I think of it as Airport Madness 9.  It is hard to believe that I’ve been doing this for 10 years now.  I remember finishing Airport Madness: Time Machine in 2012 and thinking, “What else can I possibly build in Airport Madness?“.  There are some realistic aspects of air traffic control that are extremely fun, and so far, missing from the Airport Madness series.  Applying real-world separation requirements is fun.  Separating a string of departures, each of different weight category and performance, requires a little more thinking than the current AM3D “whack-a-mole” style of ATC where absolutely anything goes, as long as the planes don’t collide.  This complexity, of course, could optionally be disabled.

Airport Madness 3D has taught me a great deal about 3D game development and the Unity development platform.  I’ve made countless mistakes over the past two years where I’ve told myself, “I won’t ever do THAT again”.  I feel much more organized than with previous versions of Airport Madness.  For example, a game begins with a Game Design Document, which I have recently finished writing for Airport Madness Pro.  It’s an instruction manual for how to build the game.  In earlier versions, I would start building the game straight away, and see what happens.

I’ve added some neat tools to my development process.  Google Sketchup the 3D modelling program I am using to design much of the game detail (with the exception of aircraft and terrain).  Speechmaker is a tool that generates multiple pilot voices for the game.  Instead of the standard three voices used since AMWE, there will be six in total, both male and female.

The aircraft types will be similar to that of AM3D except for the Concorde, which will be retired for AMP.  New paint jobs will be strikingly similar to real-world airlines, although despite using the actual spoken callsigns, I still want to distance myself from any Trademark issues by not putting any airline logos within the game, and maintaining a slight variation on the paint jobs.

More details coming soon…

Airport Madness Pro Development: Part 1

I’ve spent a great deal of time this past month on airport and aircraft detail.  Much of the work has been experimentation, always asking myself, “What looks good, yet performs well across all devices?”.  I’ve come up with a new development method for airport surface detail (grass, runways, taxiways, lines and numbering) but it’s not quite ready to share with you.  However, I have finished developing the aircraft models (now they just need some paint!).

Development of Airport Madness

I haven’t used this blog much over the past year, mainly because of how busy I am with the Airport Madness series.  There is a great deal going on, and I will try to share the details more frequently here.

My last post was six months ago, announcing the release of Airport Madness 3D: Volume 2. It’s been a wild ride.  Sales of volume 2 have been stronger than volume 1, and I was lucky enough to get volume 1 featured on the Mac App Store in January.  Having said that, I have received a great number of emails from users who would like to see something new, rather than 12 more volumes of AM3D.

Whether or not I build a third volume of AM3D remains to be seen.  What I can tell you for certain is that my next big thing is called Airport Madness Pro, a more in-depth, realistic version of Airport Madness.  This will release in the Summer of 2019.

People have emailed me saying, “Hey, that’s like a year away”.  These things take time to design, build and test.  I enjoy developing these sims, but not when I’m in a time crunch.  So I’m giving myself plenty of time, and I’ve even built in the time I’ll need to keep updating both volumes of Airport Madness 3D.  I plan to continually support and update these two games.

How much will Airport Madness Pro cost?  “More than AM3D” is the best answer that I can give.  The AM3D volumes sell for USD $20 each and offer 8 airports.  That’s about $2.50 per airport. If you compare that to similar ATC games that charge $20 per airport, it’s a good deal.  Since AMP will offer higher detail and complexity, the airports will likely cost somewhere between $5 and $8 each.  I plan to offer four airports initially, with new airports available for purchase every month or two.

I hope you all will stay tuned to this blog, as I plan to share a great deal of my progress, even at the risk of underwhelming you with early, unfinished work.

Airport Madness 3D: Volume 2 Now Available

As I’ve said before many times, when this blog seems dead it’s because I’m busy coding up my next piece of magic.  I’ve been meaning to post here for many months, but it’s hard to find the time.  I’ve been very vocal on Twitter and Facebook, but will try to speak up a little more here if I can.

Airport Madness 3D: Volume 2 released on November 21, exactly 1 day early.  That’s a first for Big Fat Simulations.  I’ve never been on time with anything.  Since development on this began 6 months ago, I’ve tried to be clear about what I was making.  Not a second version of Airport Madness 3D, but a second volume of it.  What’s the difference?  The term “volume” was used to indicate more airports, under the same game title.  A second version would indicate something that takes a major leap forward with all-new features and a fresh feel.

So far, the second volume has been well-received.  People think the airports look a little better in this volume (likely because I’m getting more experienced with the authoring software).  I’ve made some big changes to the traffic system around the aprons.  You may have noticed in the past that all aircraft had to funnel into an apron via the same path.  In AM3D2, this is no longer necessary.  But things get messy when an aircraft waiting at the south end of an airfield gets assigned a particular gate, then gets caught up in a traffic jam on its way there.  The gate forever remains earmarked for that aircraft, and in extreme cases, the apron can become somewhat emptied, with all aircraft waiting for gates to become available.  It’s still an imperfect system, but I’ll keep working at it.

Here’s a video of me, playing Airport Madness 3D: Volume 2.  I’ve decided to spare you all the goof-ball corner image of my face while I speak.  It’s bad enough that you have to hear my voice at all!

Hey, Where’s the Next Update?

Two weeks ago I released Airport Madness 3D version 1.353, a fairly substantial update.  This time, I really went after performance improvements.  As much as I wanted to charge ahead and deliver Boston Logan to you, I first wanted to get this game running smoothly across all devices, including my old crummy Android tablet.  I did several things to improve performance, mainly

The aircraft in this screenshot have fake shadows, not actual shadows that were calculated by the CPU during game play.

reducing vertices of objects.  Vertices give an object its shape.  An aircraft in Airport Madness can have a tremendous number of vertices, depending on how much effort the artist put into it and how rounded and smoothed the surfaces are. I went through Airport Madness 3D with a fine-tooth comb, looking for detail that could be stripped away without anyone noticing.  For example, airplanes that are far away on the horizon can be faked using extremely low-detail versions of themselves.  And even though the artist who created the airport vehicles added spectacular details such as mirrors and exhaust pipes, I was able to boost performance by whittling them down to something manageable.  I even removed all shadows from the game, which was something that slower machines had difficulty rendering.  That’s right, there are no actual shadows in Airport Madness 3D.  The shadows you see beneath the airplanes, vehicles and gates are all faked, in an effort to improve performance.  I think they look quite good, honestly.

I ran into numerous issues delivering this update.  Moments after releasing the Mac version, emails began pouring in from users who were experiencing unbelievably horrible graphics.  I spent two days researching the problem, and when I could not find a solution, I decided to simply rebuild the file.  Voilà, that fixed it.  However, moving on to the iOS build, I again received a huge number of complaints from users, this time reporting that only one quarter of the screen could be seen.  This problem took two days to fix.  On to the Android build.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not seem to get the build size down to the mandatory 100MB. I spent the better part of a week trying to find ways to get file sizes down.

Along the way, I learned a ton about game development with Unity3D.  The learning curve was painfully steep with this update, but I am proud to say that I understand so much more now, than before.  There was a moment, however, when I really felt like tossing my computer out the window.  I’ve read stories about game developers who lost their minds and did crazy things, and began to wonder if I was that far off.  But no, my computer is still totally intact, as is my sanity.

I’m always amazed at how much work goes into building a game.  Even just a simple update is a great deal of work.  Adding a new airport to Airport Madness 3D is huge.  As a one-man show, it’s difficult to maintain expertise in so many areas.  3D modeling, real-world terrain height maps, C-Sharp code, Unity3D, Photoshop, xCode, and all of the App Store submission portals including iTunes, Google Play, Steam and my own website.  I find, if I don’t do something for a couple of months, I begin to forget how.  As I put the finishing touches on Boston Logan, I keep having to stop as I try to remember how to do certain jobs, such as programming the AI parking system.  How the heck did I do it for the previous 7 airports?

I get emails from users asking, “Where is the airport you promised back in May?”.  And I want to reply, “What promise? Are you referring to the FREE airports I’ve regularly been adding to this game, because I’m such a nice guy?”  I hope you can understand how this can wear me down, but to be honest, I’m thrilled to receive such emails. It means that my game matters to someone, which is far, far better than obscurity.

I am extremely optimistic and excited for the future of Airport Madness.  However, I admit that I’m moving at a terribly slow pace.  It’s difficult being a full-time air traffic controller AND a game developer.  I can usually find about 15 hours per week to work on the game.  I’ve considered hiring help, but then, I’d have to pay them.  Employees tend to disappear if you don’t pay.  Considering the annual earnings of Big Fat Simulations Inc, I’m not sure if my bottom line would would improve with a full-time artist and full-time coder on the payroll.   So I’ve decided to remain a one-man band.  Controlling planes, and building games on the side wherever I can fit it in.

Boston Logan should be coming to AM3D by early July.  Stay tuned, I’ll be talking about The Next Big Thing here, shortly!

Airport Madness 3D Behind the Scenes

Here’s a quick little video I did the other day, starring myself, deep in the guts of Airport Madness 3D.  I’ve talked a great deal about how much I love this platform for game development.  I rely on four different programs to build my games, but Unity is at the heart of the operation.  It’s what zips everything together.

In this video I show you how I am attempting to squeeze a little more performance out of the game especially on mobile devices.  The trick below shows how I’m going to use fake shadows instead of real ones.  Fake shadows will look more realistic, and render faster.

Airport Madness 3D Progress

We are now up to version 1.323 of Airport Madness 3D, with another update coming in early June 2017.  I’ve been extremely busy with this project, and along with my full time ATC job and family, it’s hard to find the time to blog.  I apologize that this place has seemed dead lately.  Like I always say: when it’s quiet, that means I’m working hard.

Actually, I haven’t been than quiet.  I am constantly posting on Twitter, and it’s the best way to get an idea of what’s going on at BFS.  I also post on the Facebook page.  These two communication outlets are easy for me.  I don’t have to think very hard, and don’t have to get all witty for you, as those outlets are geared towards brevity.  Oh, and I don’t need to write any silly HTML code in order to make my posts look pretty.  I will write here from time to time, when I have a rant, or when I have something I want to say.  However, I strongly encourage you all to follow me at the following:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BigFatSims

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bigfatsims/

Here’s a snapshot of what’s coming with the next update of Airport Madness 3D.  A little facelift for Kingston, Jamaica.

Game Development Pipeline

I got into an argument with my dentist yesterday, as he performed my 6-month checkup.  We like to talk business, and since his car is nicer than mine, I try to listen and take advice.  He keeps asking when I’m going to start “building the company up” with employees and an actual work space.  “You’ll never become huge if it’s just one person.  Gotta be able to delegate stuff down”, he insists.  As he scraped coffee stains off my lower left molars, I formulated what I was going to say as soon as he got out of my mouth to let me speak.

I operate at the bottom of a massive industry that delivers games.  I’m a little guy.  I didn’t build Angry Birds, and I don’t have employees.  Next time you are at Starbucks, look for the guy sitting in the corner, foot tapping, working feverishly on his Macbook.  That’s me, listening to Daft Punk in my earbuds while sipping a double-latte.  Welcome to my office.

I’ve seen many developers build successful games that cost more than they earn.  I’ve certainly done this myself (anyone here played Airport Madness: Time Machine?). I love airplanes, and enjoy building games that involve airplanes, but I do like to make money as well.  I like to stay small and have absolute control over every aspect of the games that I make. Even if it means that I can only focus on one game at a time.

Staying small means there are no expenses, no meetings, and no investors. I can change my mind as often as I want, and I don’t need anyone’s permission.  In 2014 I actually torched a project I was working on, a flight simulator of sorts, full of ridiculous drama and unrealistic consequences (think wild Cheetah on the loose in the aircraft cabin).  I loved the concept, but I decided it wasn’t something I felt people would be dying to play again and again, for hours on end.  It was going to be another Backyard Brat, good for a little chuckle, then on to something else.

I’ve been lucky with Airport Madness.  It is by far my bestselling game, with Radar Chaos being second.  The rest of the games are basically tied for a very distant third place.  Since I’m a one-person operation with a “full-time ATC job on the side”,  I only have time to work with one game title at a time.  Currently, that title is Airport Madness 3D.  The next game will most definitely be a continuation of the series.  I’ve tossed many ideas around, from a pro edition to a builders edition.  I actually get a surprising number of emails asking me to make Train Madness.

I’m reluctant to ditch Airport Madness for anything else at the moment.  However, I can’t shake this new game idea I have, based on something I witnessed while looking out the window on a flight out of snowy Vancouver.  It was the deicing operation.  Planes load up their passengers, start their engines, then taxi into a lineup for deicing.  After a lengthy wait, they head for the runway lineup.  This is where it gets interesting.  It’s still snowing, and if they can’t get airborne within 15 minutes, they will have to get out of line and head back for more deicing.  Years ago, this airport had only two runways, one being shorter than the other.  As the snow fell, the airport would alternate runways.  Aircraft would use one runway, while the airport vehicles plowed the other.  Then they’d switch runways.  How unfortunate for the 747 destined for Hong Kong, after they already spent 40 minutes in the deicing bay, only to be told that the shorter runway is currently in use!  They would have no choice but to go back to the gate and wait for the larger runway.  Wait, there likely wasn’t a gate available, so they’d have to park in a holding area, while they figured out how to time themselves properly so that they would have the large runway available once they finished deicing all over again.  I think there is a game idea here.  I’m not sure where it belongs.  It would definitely fall under the Airport Madness title, either as a standalone game, or simply as a single level of AM3D.

My view, from seat 8A. On my way to Las Vegas, considerably warmer!

I don’t plan to create any new games outside of the Airport Madness series, for the foreseeable future.   I may consider building a better Radar Chaos, if I can find a way to properly farm the work out, while still making an overall profit from it.  We’ll see.

I’m also curious how Airport Madness fans would react to a remastered version of Airport Madness 1 and 2.  These are our classics, written in 2008 and 2009.  That’s forever ago!  Back then, steam engines were still being used to power large wheels that drove the internet.  I’m thinking full-screen resolution, better graphics, multiple aircraft, better music, achievements, a high score board, and of course, put it on Steam.

As CEO of this company, I’ve ordered myself to work on NOTHING but Los Angeles, the next level of Airport Madness 3D, aiming for a mid-February release.  In fact, I’m not even supposed to be blogging at all,  only coding.  I’m the worst type of boss!