It's been a big year for MisterX6 and his payware brand ShortFinal Design, first with the release of KLAX HD in early July, the announcement and subsequent work on his next fully-fledged payware scenery based around Munich Airport (EDDM) and to top it all off, a freeware "Christmas present" to the community, Japan Pro.
To cap off such a monumental year, we've reached out to the mastermind behind it all to talk all things X-Plane, scenery development and to discuss the future of ShortFinal Design as well as any future freeware releases.
Without further ado, welcome to Threshold, Justin!
> Starting off at the grassroots level - what got you interested in flying/aviation/flight-sim?
Both of my parents are private pilots, and as a kid they often took me on trips on the weekends. That's what started my fascination with aviation. My older brother was the one who introduced me to flight sims, the first one I played was FS98.
> You obviously have a very good, technical creative side - so how did you start using this creativity? When did you start applying it to scenery?
After taking a small hiatus from flight simming, I tried X-Plane 10 and was immediately fascinated by the night lighting and the flight model. However, I was a bit disappointed when I wanted to fly underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, but when I loaded up at San Francisco, all I could find was a generic road bridge. I decided to take it upon myself to add the real Golden Gate Bridge to X-Plane, and I was immediately hooked. Seeing your sceneries come to life is amazing, so I started adding more and more buildings, and eventually released my first scenery - KSFO and San Francisco.
> Somewhat of a follow up question to that: What software did you start with that made you want to pursue the path that got you to where you are now? Have you changed what you use since the beginning?
I actually had some previous knowledge of Blender, since I was trying to create models for a train simulator, but never actually released anything. That's why I decided to stick with it, and I never really saw a reason to switch to anything else. For me personally, it's easy to use, and has a powerful rendering engine for things like Ambient Occlusion, which really adds a lot to the appearance of your models.
> How do you choose the airports you will create?
I pick projects based on what I find interesting, and also what the community wants.
> What are the greatest challenges when starting a new airport project and how do you overcome them?
You first have to gather all the resources you need, which means licensing ortho-imagery, getting reference photos, etc... Basically getting all the information you can find. For Munich, I visited the airport myself and took lots of reference photos all around the area. For some of my past projects, members of the community also volunteered to provide me with reference photos, which I am thankful for.
> At what point do you consider a scenery project “good enough” for release?
Well, that's difficult to say. I'd say when all the technical features are present and correct (ramp starts, taxi network, signage etc..) and all the 3d models look reasonably good, that's when I would consider a scenery complete. I usually have around 10 beta testers for my sceneries, so I also take their feedback into account when deciding whether or not a scenery is ready for release.
> Were you surprised by the popularity of your sceneries? As a follow-up to that, how do you gauge success in your sceneries? Public opinion? Downloads count? Your own satisfaction?
I was actually surprised by how well received even my first scenery was. I joined the X-Plane community at a time where there weren't a lot of high quality sceneries around, so that certainly played a part. I usually don't pay much attention to download numbers, but I love reading the community's reaction to my releases. It's always nice to receive a personal thank you note from someone who knows the real airport and appreciates having a good scenery for it.
>> You've certainly received a lot of thanks for the work you've done on Japan Pro!
> Looking back, what scenery or part of scenery would you change/do differently and why?
I think my Catalina Island scenery ended up being a bit rushed. It's a very iconic location, and I feel like there would have been more potential, like making a custom mesh or including custom objects for the city of Avalon. But overall I'm happy with it.
> On the contrary to that, so far, what is your favourite MisterX6 scenery (freeware or otherwise) and why?
San Francisco will always be my favorite, not only because it was my first release, but it's also a great location with many iconic landmarks like Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. It's also my single most popular scenery so far.
>> I must agree with you there, San Francisco is a certainly a fascinating place.
> The MisterX6 library is great - when did the idea spring to mind to do something like this and why?
I had the idea when developing my Portland scenery. I was in the process of reworking all my static aircraft models, and I thought it would make sense to collect reusable assets like planes and airport vehicles in a library, so I can reuse them across multiple sceneries. It also allowed other authors easier access to use my assets, I've already had a few people request to use assets from my sceneries, so having a library made this process easier. Another benefit is the fact that a library update will affect all of my airports, without me having to go through every single one and manually updating every asset.
> How would you describe your transition to payware developer? What moments or steps come to mind from your transition?
It was a pretty tough decision. Obviously, your work is under a lot more scrutiny when you release it as payware. That's why I waited so long to make the switch, I wanted my sceneries to be good enough for payware standards. My favorite thing about being a payware developer is that I can now invest money into making my work better. Licensing high resolution ortho-imagery, getting subscriptions for texture websites, taking trips to airports to create reference photos, all those are things that I can now afford, and I think the quality of my work has benefited a lot from it.
>Now that you're one of the most well known characters in the X-Plane scene, what advice would you give to budding developers?
Have a goal in mind. That's what kept me motivated when I first started. My goal was to recreate the Golden Gate Bridge as best as I could, so I started picking up modelling, texturing, using WED, etc.. . Doesn't matter how big or small your goal is - maybe you want to create a lego-brick scenery for your local airfield, or maybe you want to create a custom scenery for a large international airport. Just keep at it, and you'll pick up the necessary skills along the way.
> Would you consider other sim platforms and why/why not?
Honestly, no. I simply don't have the time to convert my sceneries to other platforms, although I have considered to outsource it. Aside from reusing 3d models and textures, you basically have to redo the entire scenery, since the SDKs for other sims are so different. Prepar3D and the bgl format also have a lot more limitations than X-Plane (no instancing for example), which means I'd have to cut down on the detail of my sceneries.
> How do you see the X-Plane community as a whole? Do you think there is optimism? Pessimism? Frustration? Excitement?
I think overall the X-Plane community is one of the nicer ones on the internet. I've had a lot of positive interactions with people, and generally everyone is pretty excited about any news. The one thing that bothers me a bit is that a lot of people feel the need to constantly take jabs at other sims, which might give someone a bad first impression of the X-Plane community, when it's actually a very welcoming community for newcomers.
> Apart from Threshold, do you visit any other websites for X-Plane news, releases and reviews?
I also visit FSElite, Helisimmer, and simFlight for news about X-Plane and flight simming in general. I also like to visit the r/flightsim subreddit, since it's a lot less heavily moderated than other sites, which allows for better discussions.
> Last question for today: Will we at Threshold see more scenery releases coming up from you soon? Besides Japan Pro, do you plan any more freeware releases in the future?
There's my Munich scenery, which I plan on releasing next month. After that, I don't have any concrete plans at the moment, but I do have some ideas in mind. I want to explore different concepts than just airport scenery, like Japan Pro with its regional autogen. And I'm sure there are going to be more freeware sceneries from me in the future. I think that the vibrant freeware community is one of X-Plane's greatest strengths, and I want to help keep it alive.
>> Thank you, Justin, for taking the time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to have a chat with us!