Behind The Scenes: The Making of Kahului Air
You named our latest mission pack, Kahului Air, but it was the effort of our mission design team, alongside input from the dev team that helped bring Kahului Air into the sim. We wanted to create something more story driven, that would test your knowledge of the aircraft systems. We sat down with the team to discuss what developing Kahului Air meant to them and the challenges they faced in creating the pack.
We planned Kahului Air after a brainstorming session. The aim was to take what we learned from Epic Approaches and make a more detailed experience for the invested simmer. You need a more in-depth understanding of the aircraft (the PA-34 Seneca and the PA-46 Malibu Mirage), it isn't something I'd consider easy to pick-up.
Hawaii makes for a fun and varied setting, as a designer there's a lot to play with that is both realistic and adds to the experience. There are lots of small runways, and the weather can be wild at times. We planned potential flight plans on real-world data, so the routes you take and the approaches you perform are true to life. Working the things we loved about Hawaii into mission ideas. Sadly, but to be expected, some ideas were cut, but we incorporated as many of these into the other missions, ending up with 7 missions that are very memorable.
After releasing "Epic Approaches" we took a look at the feedback we were getting and there was one comment we kept seeing a lot, "make the missions longer". We wanted to provide that with this pack, which meant we needed to craft more detailed scenarios. Despite the 20 to 40 minute length, I think we did a good job in keeping things interesting throughout.
Our other focus was realism, we wanted to capture the feeling of working for a small charter: having to do the checklists, communicating with ATC and taking care of passengers and cargo. I think with each mission pack we learn more about creating content and the capabilities of the engine. Lately, we've been discussing creating an ultra-realistic set of missions for people who want to replicate real life-processes, maybe that would be something you'd all be interested in?
Kahului Air was the first project I worked on from start to finish as a Mission Designer, it was thoroughly enjoyable and a great learning experience. Turning an idea into a complete mission pack began with a week in the Chatham Office (I'm based in the Stirling) working closely with the other Mission Designers and the Senior members of the FSW team to construct and develop and plan for what we wanted this pack to be. Meetings were had, presentations were made, plans tweaked and improvements made.
By the end of the week, we had an ironclad plan in place for what we wanted, even if we didn't have a name for Mission Pack 2. The next few weeks involved a lot of hard work to get all seven missions through various stages of scrutiny and testing. I was in charge of missions 4, 5 and 6, creating those missions using the Pro Mission Tool and writing voice over lines for all the characters, working with professional voice actors to bring them to life. The last couple of weeks involved a ton of back and forth with the QA Team, who worked hard to uncover bugs and issues, which we ironed out, leaving the mission pack you're currently able to experience.
As Lead Technical Designer and the head of the mission design team, every day provides a different set of challenges. Kahului Air was no different. As we move through the process of creating a mission pack, taking an idea, prototyping + creating the base structure, we regularly need to take a step back and review the missions.
Part of my role is to critique the content and provide feedback on how the missions would work better for the user. Sometimes this is cosmetic such as changing a camera angle, and sometimes it's more core to the gameplay like amending the voice actor script or adding content to make it clear to the player what to do next. This can be time-consuming. especially if the content we are making takes a large amount of time to play through. Reviewing a single 25-minute mission may end up taking half or a full day, and this process must happen regularly when making lots of changes. Ultimately this benefits the final output of the missions as our users experience the content in the best possible light.
My main contribution to Kahului Air was transforming the PA34 into a cargo-carrier, this proved an interesting task as no other aircraft in FSW had received such treatment. The process was similar to how I imagine a real-world conversion would take place. First of all, I pitted the soon-to-be cargo hold of all seating and other unnecessary features. I created a new floor and applied a unique PBR texture-set to the cabin, representing a dull, bare metal and communicating a utilitarian aesthetic.
The cargo itself was built in two stages. First, I sculpted a high-fidelity version in ZBrush, which consisted of over 2 million polygons. The plastic wrap was made using a cloth simulation engine before it joined everything else in ZBrush and received a sculpt pass from me and my graphics tablet. Once all geometric and textural detail was complete in ZBrush, I retopologized the geometry into something more performant for FSW. Retopology, more simply, is just the process of creating a representation of some 3D geometry using fewer polygons. The two versions then shook digital hands, producing something with the detail of the high-fidelity version and the rendering efficiency of the low-fidelity version.
Kahului Air was an interesting project as the entire development team came together, each individual contributing to a unique facet of the final product. There is so much we can do to create interesting variants of FSW aircraft; this potential is something I look forward to exploring further.
As Vehicle Artist on FSW, I'm usually found working on our collection of stunning aircraft. However, for Kahului Air, my talents were required for another vehicle, an ambulance! This rugged wagon of mercyrolls out in some of the more dramatic missions.
Working with programming and design, I made use of FSW's Cold & Dark codebase to highlight various avionics units throughout the missions. This allows for new pilots to learn procedure flows and cockpit layouts live in missions.
An enjoyable task involved creating the flamboyant Hawaiian liveries for the PA34 and PA46. I captured the essence of Hawaii in the livery design with dynamic, flowing lines and vibrant colours.
Given our humble team size, we're not averse to wearing multiple hats; for Kahului Air, I temporarily assumed the environment artist role whilst creating scenery assets to dress the backgrounds and better contextualise the mission stories. All of the assets utilise our PBR2 rendering tech and have multiple LOD (level of detail) models to ensure good performance in-sim.
Hopefully you enjoyed looking into the development process here at Dovetail, let us know what you'd like us to talk about in the future or any questions you'd want answered.
You can hop into Kahului Air now, it should have automatically downloaded to your copy of Flight Sim World.