June 11, 2009

Jet Thunder Update
An interview with coder "scary_pigeon"
Interview by Joe Keefe


Flight Deck

Joe: It has been a while since the sim community was last provided with a comprehensive update on Jet Thunder. Can you discuss the status of the project now, and how you feel it is progressing?

SP: After I got a job in the games industry, I was working part time at a local store when I started on Jet Thunder; time became compressed. It was difficult to make progress with Jet Thunder, and the truth of the matter was that when I started Jet Thunder, I could certainly program, but not very well. In what was then my new job, I became a better programmer and it became obvious there were better ways to program. I imagined it would take a few months to reprogram Jet Thunder, but instead it took about a year.

My job was then made redundant in late 2008, and since then, Jet Thunder has surged in development. We have now an alpha version which we have shown to publishers. This alpha version has all the features needed to produce a single player campaign. If the general public saw it, they'd leather us for the bugs — which is why it's a sort of alpha version and not a beta or a candidate to release as a playable demo to the general public. We've had contacts with some hardware people recently as well (for example Matrox and Naturalpoint).

I have a job again now, so Jet Thunder is again a part time project unless a publisher swoops us up and funds its development in some sort of partnership.

Joe: Jet Thunder is set to be the first high-fidelity simulation to feature the Harrier. Can you tell us how you plan to integrate user control of the thrust vectoring nozzles? How do you imagine this will be implemented on common HOTAS setups (X45, Cougar, CH, etc.)?

SP: At the moment our control script just assumes that the nozzle is controlled by the [ and ] keys — this is working very well. Like the IL-2 style of "f" and "v" for flaps, the game gives text feedback that fades out when these control surfaces are moved. However, there's no reason why this couldn't be mapped to one of the fancy joysticks' many knobs. I have a Saitek X52 to test with which isn't yet fully exploited. This is because, for testing reasons and lack of development of a keymapper, all controls are hard coded. I'm now writing the keymapper.

Close Up in Flight

Joe: I was intrigued by a forum discussion some time ago regarding radio communications in Jet Thunder. Apparently the Argentinean pilots in the Falklands conflict used a rather informal radio protocol. At the same time you indicated that radio comm switchology in Jet Thunder would be quite involved. Is this still the intention? How do you plan to incorporate realistic Argentinean radio communications into Jet Thunder? How do you plan to cater to speakers of English and Spanish?

SP: In truth, I'm not quite sure how we plan to do this. I'm the programmer, and I generally do what Dante says. . To cater to speakers of English and Spanish, the basic plan is to have typical subtitles as seen in other flight sim products.

Joe: We know NaturalPoint TrackIR™ support is planned for Jet Thunder. Has there been any progress in expanding that support to 6DOF? If not, why not?

SP: We need to make more progress with TrackIR. We have the ability to move the camera about quite easily with the keyboard and mouse, and we've received TrackIR kits. What we need to do is to get back in touch with Naturalpoint, sign their NDA, and implement TrackIR support properly. Other more pressing features have taken priority so far.

Joe: Has it been decided whether or not cockpits will be clickable?

SP: It has still not been decided if cockpits will be clickable in version 1.0. I would be interested to know what users think about the importance of this feature. We plan to release patches and feature update patches if something doesn't get in the version 1.0 release that we think should be. Cockpits will eventually be clickable.

Cockpit Detail

Joe: Will Jet Thunder include proper support for ultra-wide screen resolutions such as can be achieved with the Matrox TripleHead2Go or SoftTH?

SP: Matrox has tested if Jet Thunder works acceptably on their TripleHead2Go system without fuss; it works fine. I've never heard of SoftTH.

Joe: Will there be any data exporting capabilities included in Jet Thunder such as lamp status, MFD imagery, etc. that could be used by home cockpit builders?

SP: I'd say yes, but it's considered low in priority for release 1.0 at the moment. These capabilities will probably be included in a free patch, similar to clickable cockpits.

Joe: Since the development of Jet Thunder began, there have been great strides in computer parallelization (i.e. dual- and quad-core CPUs, SLI / Crossfire GPUs). DirectX 10 has debuted as well. Will Jet Thunder be able to take advantage of these advances in technology?

SP: Our graphics at the moment are still mostly OpenGL 1.1. We have started implementing shaders using the expertise of an anonymous coder. The screenshots we´re showing with this interview are highlighting this recently added shader support. We intend to take advantage of newer hardware as much as we can.

Hard Turn

Joe: Tell us about some of your favorite features that are being integrated into Jet Thunder — new things that the community will appreciate in a new flight sim.

SP: My favorite feature that's been added is the first radio chat feature. It's not very advanced, but it's interesting to get verbal messages giving you instructions; sound is important. At the moment, though, the Jet Thunder sound system needs to be updated. I'm looking forward to putting in 3d sound.

What I like most about our system is that it is completely data driven; a cockpit for an aircraft sits in a folder and is referenced from a folder containing all information about an aircraft. It is potentially very moddable.

Joe: What is the target audience for Jet Thunder — the Falcon 4 and DCS: Black Shark hardcore avionics crowd? A LOMAC Su-25T / Jane's F-18 level of fidelity? Or is your main target a broader audience?

SP: I am personally most inspired by IL-2. I want Jet Thunder to be accurate, and accessible. Some virtual pilots will fly the less advanced aircraft with simpler avionics. For example, the radar-less Skyhawk, the ground attack Harrier, or the very attractive looking Pucara.

Joe: In 2006 you told SimHQ about the dynamic campaign system planned for Jet Thunder. Dynamic campaigns are always a hot-button issue with SimHQ members. Can you give us a current description of the campaign system and tell us what you feel are some of its major strengths?

SP: I think it would be unthinkable to not have some sort of dynamic campaign. Embarrassingly, we don´t have the complete design for it yet. We are pondering mainly if there ought to be a sort of RTS running in the background, which might be quite tricky technically. Alternatively, we could use a turn-based approach similar to the Total War strategy game series; this would be turn-based strategy with optional real time resolution, which might be easier. I'm pondering rules of popular board games to see if they are applicable.

We imagine the dynamic campaign will also have a number of "what ifs"; for example, what if Port Stanley runway was extended? The Argentinians chose to fortify the island's ground defenses rather than improve its airfield. Would the option of using Mirages supersonically be a useful edge?




Joe: Are there plans to incorporate "historical" missions along with the dynamic campaign? This will be the first sim ever to depict the Falklands conflict, and some historical junkies might appreciate the ability to fly certain important missions as close as possible to the way they actually happened.

SP: Along with a dynamic campaign, we definitely plan to have historical missions.

Joe: Have there been any developments in a publisher for Jet Thunder?

SP: We have a few contacts with publishers but nothing signed yet. We also imagine that a more complete demo will give us stronger options. We are also considering self-publishing with online distribution. In short, we've not decided.

Joe: In early 2006 you stated that you hoped Jet Thunder would be done in 2007. Obviously that's not the case. I'm sure you and your team are working very hard to finish the product. Do you have an estimated release date at this point? Do you feel that the release date has slipped because of a lack of time or because newer and better features keep getting added to the project?

SP: We have too little time, as I elaborated earlier. Also, perhaps we have a little inexperience. Complex things seem to take longer than expected. However, we tentatively expect a playable demo soon and a release towards 2010.

On the Flight Deck


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