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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!

Airport Madness 3D Mobile Update

It’s been a rough week.  The Airport Madness 3D Castlegar update went very smoothly for Steam, as well as our website’s PC/Mac version.  Unfortunately, the same is not true for the iOS and Android versions that we released a few days ago.

There are so many things I could blame for this, but ultimately, the blame goes to me.  The problem with releasing new airport updates is that it takes time.  Lots of time.  It is difficult for me to design and build a new airport, and publish it across several platforms, in less than two months.  Two months is enough time for me to forget the ins-and-outs of the iOS and Android publication procedures. It is also enough time for my various development programs to make major changes to their publication processes.

So what’s happened is many mobile users who had previously downloaded the “free” version and bought airports for it, have lost some of these airports.  Fortunately, there is a solution for both iOS and Android devices.

iOS iPhone or iPad:

So you’ve updated Airport Madness 3D’s free version in iTunes, and now it’s asking you to buy everything again.  This is happening because the “Restore Purchases” button I added does not work.  A fix has been submitted to Apple and will arrive in 48 hours.  Until then, you’ll need to go ahead and pretend to buy it again.  Apple will not charge you twice.  Watch this:

Android:

Android is the same thing, despite its automatic restore purchase  system.  Go ahead and click the buy buttons again.  You could also uninstall, reinstall, and restart your device, an alternative fix on Android devices.  I’ve also caught several Android users who are using a different Google Play account than what they used to make purchase, which explains why they lost their airports.

A Love / Hate Relationship

I find publishing for mobile very challenging.  However, these app stores do a great deal of the heavy lifting for me.  Nobody ever has difficulty making payment on mobile devices.  Nobody ever has difficulty unzipping files or with installation.  And nobody ever has  issues with their antivirus, warning them of the evil Big Fat Simulations company that’s trying to compromise their computers.

In fact, the only platform that’s a total breeze to deal with is Steam.  Steam is a dream for developers.  Sure, it’s confusing learning how to navigate Steampipe for the first little while.  But it’s all worth it.  I’ve contemplated only releasing future games to Steam.  However, to make it in this industry, you do have to spread yourself out.  Currently, it’s best to be on PC, Mac, iOS, Android, and as many app stores as possible, including Mac App Store and Steam.

Moving Forward

I owe an apology to mobile users who had issues this week with their previous purchases.  Many of them are angry, and believe that I’ve intentionally taken their purchases away.  I’ve tried to communicate with them as best I can, showing them how to resolve the issue.

I’ve written myself a detailed checklist for mobile publishing.  This will reduce my frustration in future.  Also, I plan to publish updates more often, which will keep me familiar with the back-end publication environments for these mobile platforms.

Next update comes in three weeks!  Los Angeles Airport.  But that’s another blog post…

 

Airport Madness 3D Gets Another Update

As promised, I’ve added a sixth airport to Airport Madness 3D.  It is Castlegar, BC with an aerial firefighting theme.  You are not just moving passenger aircraft, but firefighting aircraft as well.  The city is being consumed by an out-of-control forest fire that is invading from the west.  After the first few frustrating attempts at dealing with the problem, you will learn that the passenger traffic must wait.  That’s right, those passengers can sit there and rot, until the forest fire gets under control.

painting

Whenever I come up with an idea for an airport, I have no idea if the airport will be any fun at all.  After almost 10 years of building Airport Madness, and more than 20 years as a real-world air traffic controller, I understand that crossing runways make an airport fun, but that’s not always the rule.  One of the most interesting and heavily played Airport Madness airports is Funchal Airport.  It’s only got one runway, but it has a nasty runway backtrack for every takeoff and landing, which makes the airport insanely complicated.  When I chose to build Castlegar, I was in love with the concept of building a mountainous airport, dedicated to firefighting.  I didn’t think adding a forest fire would add complexity.  It did greatly.

I’ve logged about 30 hours now at Castlegar, and what I’ve learned is that traffic must be moved in groups.  You’ve got firefighters, and you’ve got passenger traffic.   The firefighters need absolute priority.  They should never wait in a takeoff lineup behind a bunch of 737’s.  The passenger traffic should always be #2.  After you clear all firefighters for takeoff, you then get rid of all passenger traffic.  As the fire tankers return to the airport to reload, the passenger traffic gets shut down again.  Playing in this manner generates a great deal of negativity, which can be read from the angry passenger tweets and high Stress-o-Meter reading.  But who cares?  At Castlegar, you’re in the firefighting business, not the get-everyone-to-like-me business.

delays

Generally, I suck at my own games.  Isn’t that sad?  However, I do hold one of the higher scores at Castlegar airport, and I have my real-world ATC experience to thank for that.  The ability to say “no” to pilots is a skill that can often save an airport from calamity.  After overdosing on the Castlegar level of Airport Madness 3D, I decided to go back and try some earlier levels.  I noticed something very interesting.  Each airport has its very own “ideal traffic pattern”.

Take Rocky Mountain, for example.  This morning I ordered myself a grande triple-shot latté, put my earphones on and blasted Metallica into my ears, then fired up the Rocky Mountain – Building Traffic challenge.  After about 30 relatively peaceful minutes, the airport became unmanageable.  At Rocky, the gates don’t clear quickly and therefore a controller must push themselves to be hyper efficient.  Arrivals were backed up all the way to the runway, and I had to start pulling up subsequent arrivals.  I thought to myself, what would I do in real life?  Immediately I began forcing all arrivals to use 30L.  All departures got sent to 30R.  It made for two very ugly long lineups of traffic, but it was absolutely the most efficient way to pump traffic.  The two runways are completely independent of one another.  A crossing runway operation becomes ridiculous at a certain point.  As soon as you realize that pilots don’t have to land on their runway of choice, the situation becomes easier.

efficiency

The next Airport Madness 3D update will add Los Angeles International, hopefully releasing at the beginning of February 2017.  As I sit here typing, I’m asking myself, “am I really going to build LAX?  Will it even be a fun airport?”  I really think it will be.  It has four parallel runways, two dedicated to arrivals and the other two for departures.

llmdfiiu

Look for updates in the coming weeks right here!

Airport Madness Progress


I really dislike it when someone updates their stale blog with an apology for having not blogged recently. If someone has nothing to say, then nothing should be said. It clogs up the internet. I have confessed many times that I’m a horrible blogger. Not only do I go months without posting, worstblogbut I seldom have time to give appropriate responses to replies. In my defense, I am very busy. I do read every single email that I receive from customers, however.

It is hard to believe that Airport Madness 3D is 6 months old, already.  I have learned not to make solid promises on release dates, especially for free game updates. It is very difficult for me to know how long a particular update will take, as I am a single-person operation, building games in my spare time. It is business as usual in my office (my office is Starbucks). I spend approximately 2 hours each day answering emails, fixing bugs and building new stuff.

I am almost finished the next AM3D update, which adds Castlegar Airport with a bizarre theme – an aerial firefighting operation. In addition, I’ll be adding 6 new aircraft including a Boeing 737 and a DC10 Fire Bomber. A possible future development is a “multiplayer” option for AM3D.  Air Traffic Control is a sport. A lot of people don’t know that, but real-world air traffic controllers are competitive, and like to think they can move airplanes faster than their coworkers. The employer, of course, discourages such competition, always pushing safety first.

img_7779

Top-secret Airport Madness screenshot – Castlegar Airport.

My game development progress has slowed over the past two months, as my real ATC job has demanded more of me lately. Our airport’s traffic rate has been on the rise, and when I get a day off, I really need it. I still roll up my sleeves and work, but I can’t do 4 hours of work like I did during AM3D’s release. I’m still fired up about Airport Madness development, and plan to share with you my 5-year development roadmap very soon.

The next AM3D update is definitely coming. I just don’t have an exact date. It could be 5 days, it could be 20. Thank you for your patience.  Please enjoy this stunning painting of the DeHavilland Beaver while you wait 😉

img_7780

Artwork by Andrew McTaggart

Airport Madness 3D Review

This month Air & Space Magazine give a nice printed review of Airport Madness 3D.   I had no idea they had done this, until a customer stumbled upon the review and was kind enough to forward it tome.  It means so much when I see a review like this. It makes all of the effort worth it!

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

Go Around!

The “go-around” is an air traffic controller’s get-out-of-jail-free card.  It may be somewhat inconvenient for pilots and passengers, but it is a perfectly safe operation and often the ga1right thing to do.  A controller tries to move traffic as quickly as possible, but sometimes the timing does not work out, and they get a situation where an aircraft is about to touch down with another aircraft still on the runway. In real life, a controller is not questioned when they elect to “pull somebody up”.  In Airport Madness 3D prior to Update 1.121, go-arounds were free.  Don’t like what’s happening?  Simply pull somebody up!

Unfortunately, some players have learned that tremendously high scores can be achieved by pulling up large numbers of aircraft.  What a great way to maintain a tidy field!  Just pull everyone up!  You get no complaints about takeoff delays, and your stress meter goes way, way down.

To fix this cheat, in Update 1.121 I decided to force these go-arounds to circle back and join the ga3landing queue.  I thought it was a clever way to stop cheaters.  Unfortunately, very few players agreed.  When a player is legitimately trying to manage an airport, and they encounter a bad situation, they do what any real-life controller would do: they pull someone up.  When an Airport Madness player reaches the point in their game where they start issuing go-arounds, it usually means that their airport is in a state of anarchy.  And the last bloody thing they need is for the aircraft to circle back into the mix again!

So here’s what I’ve done with this morning’s Update 1.122: if an aircraft is assigned a go-around, the aircraft will climb straight ahead for eternity (to infinity and beyond!).  If you’re like me and you have too much pride, you’ll do the right thing and bring the aircraft back for a landing.  If you let it fly away, you’ll be left with a 1000-point penalty.  And you’ll also lose the 1000 points you would have earned for landing the aircraft.

I look forward to getting feedback from all of you on this.  I apologize for not being better about responding to comments on this blog.  You can always reach me quickly via email, or even better, by joining our Steam Community.