From Humble Beginnings: MAXX-XP

May 27, 2018
John Spahn
nobody, apparently.

Hello Captains! John from Maxx-XP here.....

            A longtime friend, someone I've worked with and have learned from, Peter Tram, asked me to write an article for Threshold. All week I was thinking about what to write and decided I would start off with my background and how I got started with development in X-Plane.  I also want to discuss our mission and how we hope to impact our niche hobby. Additionally, I want to discuss our latest offering, which has been in the works for many years. Sit back, relax and I hope you enjoy the ride....

            One thing I thought about all week was where did my interest in aviation begin? Let us venture back many moons ago when I was a child in the great city of Philadelphia (cue the Rocky music).  I bring up my childhood because those early years mold us into our adulthood.  I grew up in a a low income area, Kensington was a neighborhood made up of a large Irish, blue collar population.  My mother along with my twin sister and older brother lived in a small row home with our grandparents. Kensington was designed, back during the industrial revolution, as a community centered around the textile industry.  Even as a child some of those factories were still operating but fading quickly due to not being able to compete with international industry.  Our neighborhood would be considered depressed and had all the elements that are considered urban blight. This all sounds bleak, but in actuality what you lack in some areas translates into strength in others, in our case it was strength in family.  This brings me to my grandfather, a stoic individual of few words, a man who grew up during the great depression, who dropped out of school during the 8th grade to work, a career truck driver and an Army Veteran who served in Japan after the war. This man had all the makings of the working class hero that was romanticized after the war. Pop, as we affectionally called him, was much more. He had a great technical mind and a massive appreciation for how things worked, the man could fix anything and also used his abilities to create many things. Us developers for X-Plane exhibit the same qualities under a different medium.  One of his many hobbies was building RC aircraft, after he passed I was fortunate enough to grab a T-6 Texan he built and it’s a display piece in the Maxx-XP office.

Pop took me under his wing and we did a lot together. One activity I was always found of was going down to Philadelphia International Airport and plane spotting. What really stuck with me all these years was this stoic individual with his hardened appearance would have this look of wonder and amazement when spotting.  As his little road warrior, we also attended air shows and aerospace museums regularly. This, without a doubt, is the foundation of my interest in aviation.

Fast forward into my mid 20's and deployed overseas in 2003 at Camp Arifjan Kuwait.  One of the interesting things about deployment are the long periods of inactivity with the sprinkled in short periods of intense activity. We were a contingency which afforded me more free time then most during my stint overseas. With time on my hands and a trusty laptop I somehow got involved with flight simulation.  The sim of choice was FS2002 since it ran well on my hardware. I soon found there was a whole community out there dedicated to add-ons and people who were just as invested in aviation as I was, hook line and sinker.

With my feet firmly planted in this new hobby, and finally home from deployment, I started investing more and more money. At one point I built a generic home cockpit in my basement that ran FS2004. It had dual displays for the outside world, 4 small LCD panels for the avionics along with some GoFlight modules. I also invested in tons of add-ons to further enhance my experience. Building and tweaking was always just as important as flying. Interestingly enough, flight simulation brought me into hardware and software development as a necessity to gain what I wanted out of the hobby.

Windows XP was notoriously vulnerable to viruses and my flight sim setup was completely trashed one day. Not having much money, I decided shift focus from Windows to Linux and X-Plane 9. There you have it folks, a virus is how I started with X-Plane. Dipping my feet into X-Plane, at that time, was a different feel from today. The ecosystem was much less established then the MSFS world and the base product was lacking in many areas, but I fell in love with the small-town feel. This was reinforced when I emailed Austin with a question and actually received a reply. I knew this product would grow so I stuck around.

A few years and a new version of X-Plane hits the market. Leading up to the release there was a lot of talk about the “plausible” autogen approach along with the weather representation. Two areas I was extremely disappointed with when XP10 dropped.  This is the moment when a massive shift in focus begun and, well, Maxx-XP was born. With help from the community, specifically Andreas Fabian, I started on the path of enhancing the urban environment and UrbanMAXX hit the market.  My first payware add-on was wildly successful and a new chapter had begun.

With my head in the clouds I set forward to enhance this aspect. I initially released some free texture sets but as I spent time with the default clouds I soon realized I wasn't found of them at all. So I started investing my time on a different approach, and a failed payware offering SkyMAXX Extreme was born. Ever hear of SME? Probably not I only sold 20-25 copies, it used a skybox which had cloud images painted on them in conjunction with updated default textures.  It looked nice but honestly it lacked any real function, I soon pulled it off the market. As with any failure, if you have the right attitude, greatness can follow.  So to attain what I wanted to accomplish with the weather in X-Plane I soon realized I was way in over my head.  My limited programming knowledge had me at a stalemate, what a guy to do? Research! 

Surfing the interwebs I ran into SunDog Software and started looking at the SilverLining SDK.  I was hooked on the dynamic nature of these clouds. The depth, movement and how they morph under certain conditions were things lacking in X-Plane and something I wanted for the community, clouds that behave like clouds! Extremely limited in my knowledge of OpenGL programing and limited in funding I decided to have a couple of drinks and discuss a potential partnership with SunDog to bring the SDK into X-Plane, it was a total shot in the dark.  To my amazement I received a reply from one Frank Kane and the rest is the best selling add-on for the X-Plane platform, SkyMAXX Pro was born.  Turns out me and Frank work extremely well together, having his attention with the success of SMP and the value of belonging to the largely consumer based X-Plane market, we continued to move forward with our “global” mission. Along with the continual improvements to SMP we have some smaller offerings such as SoundMAXX, MaxxFX  and Real Weather Connector which bring more much needed depth to the X-Plane world.

All this brings me to the next big thing from Maxx-XP and SunDog. Another global element missing in our X-Plane world are seasons. This has been on our radar for a very long time. When we started on this mission we became aware we would need help from Laminar Research to make it a reality.  So I had a few more drinks and we opened up the dialog with them and they obliged with the tools to make our vision a reality.  Outside of the plugin itself there was the massive task of texturing the world for a variety of potential seasonal variations.  A metric ton of trial and error and some cool tricks later, as I write this, we are in labor and TerraMAXX is about to be born. As with all our other offerings its something I am extremely proud of and I can't wait for the community to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed developing it for you all.

Maxx-XP was born out of passion for flight simulation and even aviation in general, my hope is that passion shows in our offerings.  My goal has always been to help advance X-Plane and to keep our hobby alive and kicking.  Thank you for taking the time to read this article and I also hope you may gain something from this inside look at what made me a developer.

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