|Interview With X-Plane's Austin Meyer|
July 20, 2005 | Tim Morgan
X-Plane, once the little flight simulator that could, is now a formidable force among GA sims. It's not a large market (especially not on the Mac), but the giants such as Microsoft have been slugging at it for over a decade. Yet in this battle of warships a single clipper dodged the cannonfire, and that ship is X-Plane. X-Plane has steadily grown in the face of multimillion dollar flight simulators, and now represents a work-at-home effort with a feature list as long as any production house simulator could hope for.
To get a look at what makes an underdog such a resounding success, Inside Mac Games sat down with X-Plane visionary and programmer Austin Meyer, who wrote a sim, put together a team, and created a cult of X-Plane enthusiasts.
IMG: First, a bit about you and the history of X-Plane.
AM: Hello, my name is Austin Meyer, and I wrote X-Plane. I have been writing and selling X-Plane for about 10 years. Other sims (Flight-Unlimited, Fly!, Fly! 2K) have tried to compete against Microsoft, and all have failed...except X-Plane, which has had continuously increasing sales. Through combined retail and web sales, I have sold over 250,000 copies of X-Plane.
I am busily releasing new updates every month, and in addition to running on Mac and Windows, just four days ago we came out with the first full X-Plane for Linux. X-Plane continues to eat away at Microsoft's market-share, and with Mac, Windows, and now Linux platforms supported, and version 8.00 set to debut in retail outlets this Thanksgiving, the growth of X-Plane we have seen so far will be only the beginning!
IMG: X-Plane has long been a Mac-first (and previously Mac-only) product. What brought you to the Macintosh platform as a development environment for simulations/computer games?
AM: It's just soooooooooo much better to use than Windows, as you already know. I could go on for pages about how much better the Mac is, but why bother preaching to the choir? You already know the reasons...they are the exact same reasons as your reasons.
IMG: Probably the biggest news in X-Plane's recent history has been its FAA certification as a training aid. The certification has meant numerous changes to X-Plane to make it more viable as a tool for training student pilots. How does this affect the future of X-Plane? Are there goals you have in mind for X-Plane as a training device?
AM: This does affect X-Plane, but not as much as you might expect. My goal for X-Plane has always been realism, and with me being a pilot and engineer, I have never needed FAA-certification to tell me whether or not the sim is realistic. In fact, the FAA-certified version of X-Plane is not any "more realistic" than the retail version. All I did was remove the cool stuff like Mars flight (which is, by the way, every bit as realistic as the Earth flight) and the Space Shuttle (which is, by the way, as realistic as any other supersonic flying in X-Plane), so, the FAA-certified version of X-Plane is no more realistic or powerful then the retail version. In fact, it's the other way around: I de-feature the FAA versions so there is no non-certified content in the sim.
Now, there has been some benefit to certification. Working with experts in specific jets and turboprops for certification has caused me to improve the engine modeling in the sim, and there is a trickle-down effect (which is actually a shower, not a trickle, because 100% of this engine-modeling code is used in both the FAA and retail versions of the sim). So the FAA-cert has allowed certain areas of the sim to flesh out, and this will continue though what the FA wants is more systems modeling, not a better flight model. The flight model for X-Plane is already fine, and is being used clear up to FTD-level six right now. That lets pilots train at a very high level of certification; we're talking about rescue pilots flying the EC-135 medivac helos on X-Plane here to keep up their skills.