Category Archives: air traffic control games

Development Platforms

Big Fat Simulations develops games and simulations using Adobe Flash Technology. This is our preferred platform, as Flash is capable of producing web-based content as well as desktop applications.

All of our games have free versions that rely on the distribution power of game portals all over the web. The full versions, however, are too big to fit in the browser space, and owners of our full versions do not want their purchase to be dependent on a web connection. Hence the need for both an ‘online free version’ and a ‘downloadable desktop version’.

Adobe Flash has always been great for being able to deliver both. However, a number of users have experienced difficulty with Adobe AIR, and so we develop ‘alternate files’ for our games, which work fine, but have ugly icons and don’t contain our ‘digital signature’.

What development alternatives do we have? Should we hire new coders that can write the C++ language, and learn a new platform like Unreal Engine? Or switch to mobile development using Apple’s xCode, requiring coders who are familiar with the Objective-C language?

We could use Unity, which delivers for both, like Flash does. It requires a knowledge of C# and Javascript languages. And it has better performance. However, it’s content cannot be circulated throughout the online game portals as well as Flash content can.

The time I spend thinking about all this would probably be better spent focusing on simply making fun games.

So is Flash the best platform for what we do? Considering the time and money required to port our games over to another platform, a change would have to offer very substantial improvements to make it worthwhile. Almost all of our user complaints involve missing game features or bugs, but very few involve performance.

“But everyone’s playing games on mobile devices now!”. There is money to be made with mobile games, but there’s a lot of noise out there. To make a buck in the mobile world, you need to create a truly stellar game. As for PC and Mac game opportunities, there are more PC’s and Macs being sold now than ever before.

Since 2008, mobile games have steadily grown in popularity, and many have asked us to port our games over to iOS and Android. We have done this, with the assistance of our partner company, who specializes in mobile development. Android is extremely difficult to serve, as there are so many different device resolutions and device capabilities. The app stores that are available on Android are still evolving, and not quite as good as developers would like, compared to iOS.

Airport Madness is our biggest seller, and we have more versions coming, but it definitely won’t last forever. In fact, next year we will begin development of 3D games. At that time, we will likely transition to Unity technology.

Automating Air Traffic Control

As I type code for our upcoming air traffic control games, a question repeatedly comes to my mind.  Can a computer manage real air traffic?   Could we remove the human factor from radar screens everywhere, and let a computer make these decisions?

A computer is able to observe altitudes, speeds and headings, as well as flight plans. A computer is most certainly capable of broadcasting comprehendable air traffic control instructions to pilots. The coded algorithms required to make such decisions is not rocket science, either. In fact, many of our air traffic control games require some degree of ‘intelligence’ to detect and resolve traffic conflicts.  In Airport Madness 3, airplanes see each other and make decisions regarding who should stop and who should go.  In our radar game Air Traffic Controller, the system recognizes vertical and lateral losses of separation.

This technology already exists in parts of the world, although it’s focus is high-level enroute situations.  How hard is it to change a pilot’s flight level, or give the occasional mach assignment? Passing traffic information would be very easy for a computer. Coordination with other sectors, even human ones, would be spot on.  However, I am reminded of a drive I made recently through a remote area of Ontario, Canada. I encountered a complete road closure necessitating a backtrack and a complete reroute to my destination. My GPS (I don’t carry roadmaps) insisted that I get back on the highway in spite of the closure. I had absolutely no way of determining what other routes were available to me and finally had to pull over to get some human advice on how I would reach my destination.

Computers are great, but when the situation is anything but normal a human brain is needed. In air traffic control things are seldom ever normal, except perhaps in the high flight levels where aircraft cruise steadily and predictably. Where things can fall apart are the unusual circumstances, which happen so often in ATC that they become almost expected.  Thunderstorm activity, icing, turbulence, emergencies, loss of radar, re-routes, flow control, and airborne holds to name just a few.

Another big reality is the lack of radar information that exists in the world.  There is very little coverage out there.  If you were to look at a map of the world that depicted areas of radar coverage, most of you would be surprised at how little there is.  Granted, they are doing amazing and wonderful things with GPS these days, but at the moment there is very little radar, especially at lower altitudes and away from busy terminal areas.  There is almost no radar information over the oceans.  Computers make guesses, augmented by position reports from the pilots.

As a programmer, I can’t imagine the amount of code that would be required to detect and handle all of the possible situations that can unfold in the world of air traffic control.  In risk of sounding naive, I think this technology is still quite a ways off.

Internet Security

So I’ve installed the latest version of Internet Explorer, IE 9 Beta. While I think it is a very decent browser, I was disappointed to see that I was unable to download our air traffic control games without receiving a security warning.  Some customers have complained of this issue too, and lately we have had to to point more and more customers to our alternate download files, which use the Adobe AIR installer. For some reason, Internet Explorer seems to trust the AIR format over the .exe format. Many malicious software developers choose the .exe format, so I don’t blame Microsoft for filtering ours.

We’ve also received complaints from customers who receive warnings upon downloading, such as “This publisher has not been verified. Are you sure you want to install this file?”.  This has prompted us to purchase a digital certificate, which does nothing more than reassure customers that the software they are installing is legitimate.

Digital certificates are not cheap, nor are they easy to obtain.  A company that wants to obtain a digital certificate to assure customers of their legitimacy must first convince a company such as Verisign or Thawte that they are, in fact, legitimate software developers.

Airport Madness 3, as well as all future developments of Big Fat Simulations, will be digitally signed for customer reassurance.

Where We’re Headed

There has been great change in the casual game industry over the past couple of years. More and more users are looking for games that can be played socially on facebook, or on their mobile devices. Our most successful game, Airport Madness 3 for PC/Mac, fits neither. It is simply a downloadable application. While it is our intention to release an Airport Madness 4 in 2011 in a similar fashion to its’ predecessors, we can’t overlook the shift in the gaming industry.

Lately we have been developing quite a number of iPhone/iPad applications, such as Airport Madness Challenge, Airport Madness Mobile and Will It Fly. We are not overlooking Android, which happens to be next on our list. It is our intention to build out many of our existing PC/Mac games for both iOS and Android. At the same time, we are working on a social game for facebook, of the airport variety.

We also have a few entirely new game ideas that break free from our air traffic control theme. These will initially be introduced as flash games and later ported to Android and iOS. 2011 should be a very busy and exciting year for us, so please stay tuned.

Air Traffic Control Games: Casual Vs. Serious

Airport Madness 2 was always meant to be a casual game, the kind you might play to fill the minutes of a coffee break. You might play it while eating a bag of chips, while listening to your iPod, or while bouncing a one-year-old on you knee. Airport Madness 3 however, has a more serious mood. You will need to put your chair in the upright position. Airport Madness 3 “brings it”. It is for those who couldn’t get enough of AM2, and have a strong interest in the world of air traffic control.

When you build a sequel you really must offer up something new, otherwise your product runs the risk of being dismissed as simply “more of the same”. We wanted to brag about more than simply offering two new airport layouts. AM3 is more complex. It has a different feel. The pilot voices obey real-world ICAO phraseology. Your control options include runway assignments, 360-degree turns, downwind leg extensions, and full speed control. The resolution is massive.

AM3 runs the risk of driving away those who are merely looking for something light and simple. But if you’ve mastered AM2 while blindfolded with your hands tied behind your back, by all means sign up for our newsletter to be the first in line for Airport Madness 3 this June!

The Ultimate Radar Game


When I was fourteen, I was introduced to the game of Chess. At first glance, I thought the game seemed like a waste of my time. I would never figure out the subtle differences between all of the various pieces. I would never brag about such activity to my friends at school. “Dude, I totally check-mated my brother with my rook yesterday!”. However, I quickly fell in love with the game and a lot of my friends at school did, too. The game of Chess is similar to air traffic control games and simulations because of how addictive the play action is.

Managing a whole bunch of airplanes on a radar screen truly is one of the more interesting things you could ever try doing. It is such a mental rush to be responsible for thousands of lives at once, all of them hurtling through the troposphere at over 500 miles per hour, in a seemingly archaic fashion. Unlike air traffic control games or simulations, in real life the bottom line is safety. We don’t “push tin” like they do in the movies. Instead, we “cautiously manage said tin in an organized manner, as though our very lives depend on it”.

Air traffic control provides the world with a fantastic concept for potential new games, and this has yet to be truly explored by game developers. All of the popular classics like Risk, Monopoly, Checkers and Chess offer the same intellectual challenges as ATC does. What the casual game community lacks is an ATC game that invites everyone to the table to play. My mother tried our game Airport Madness 2 and really got into it, but she could not grasp our simulation. The world needs a radar game that starts easy and then builds, not just by intensity, but in complexity as well.

It is my vision to develop a radar-based game similar to Air Traffic Controller that maintains a reasonable degree of realism yet is simple enough for anyone ages 6 and up to jump in and start playing, without requiring 12 months’ training at an ATC institute to even get started. I envision such game consisting of a variety of radar puzzle-like challenges. For example, one challenge may be to carefully vector numerous aircraft through a complex maze of terrain, and another challenge may require using only speed control to funnel enormous volumes of air traffic into an arrival stream for a busy international airport.

We may be getting rather ahead of ourselves, as we are still assembling Airport Madness 3, Airport Madness Mobile for iPhone, as well as a 3D version of Airport Madness from a tower perspective (no release date on that!). I’d like feedback on our proposal for a simple “puzzle-style” radar game. Please feel free to email us directly with your thoughts.