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Flying Circus: Simguild Interview

by Len Hjalmarson

Simguild is a group of WWI sim fanatics who have produced a solid online simulation called Flying Circus. This undiscovered Internet treasure is well known to many Warbirds regulars, and is fast attracting interest around the globe. Recently the principals agreed to answer our questions, and here is that interview.....


Csim: I understand that most of the principles have military experience. Tell us something about the personalities involved.

Simguild: There are seven of us. We all still have day-jobs but we are working every night and each weekend to bring our dreams of creating great Internet computer games to fruition.

John Padgett (CEO), software engineer, was a T-38 flight instructor for the US Air Force. John has a M.S. in mechanical engineering. Padgett's constant vision is performance, responsiveness, and speed. He is responsible for the game-play, the planes, and the "Client" portion of our game.

David W. Riede (President), software engineer, has been an enlisted Marine Infantryman, and currently is a CPT in the US Army Reserves. He earned a BS in computer science, but is now turning his study efforts toward physics. Riede is our ad-hoc leader, a comedian, and a really smart guy. Riede is working on the billing server—so that SimGuild can "Turn on the Money Spigot". After the billing server, he will start another SimGuild game—an internet tank simulator.

Kevin Johnson, software engineer, currently working in simulations for one of the US Army's Battle Labs. Kevin does most of our network administration and the "Server" parts of the game. If you get kicked-off the game, by a "Server Kill", you can probably blame Kevin. Kevin is into encryption methods and is great at building computers.

Derick Gerlock (Secretary), graphic arts, currently an Artillery Officer working simulations for the US Army Reserves. Gerlock does a lot of important administrative things for SimGuild, Incorporated, such as removing three week old "fuzzy" pizza from the Lab, and passing out SimGuild Business cards like crazy. Gerlock also has a M.A. in Computer Resource Management and Information Systems, which the software engineers love to rib him about (You know how those software engineers are with their "hard" degrees in math, and computer science).

Ernest Navarro, software engineer, works in military contracting. Navarro does our Web Page construction and update. He is also writing the start-up and log-on code for the SimGuild's Flying Circus. Navarro is the nicest member of SimGuild, he usually answers all of our e-mail. If you got told "It's a Bug, we are working on it as fast as we can…" and you still can't get on-line, you can blame Ernest. Navarro also works with artificial intelligence, and may apply some of that experience to later versions of "Drone Shoot".


Steve Huyssoon, software engineer, works in military contracting. He is a former flight mechanic for the US Air Force. If you like the "wind" sounds when you turn off your BI-plane engines, just ask Steve to blow into the microphone. We will only use Steve's first name here because we are just as confused about his last name as you are, and that is the correct spelling. Steve is also a math major and major pain, but we love him and his beard. Steve has a lot of experience with RC Planes—but initially that did not help him from being shot down a lot (ha ha). Steve is working on 3D acceleration and starting work on his new game, which will probably be called, "H-Bots".

John Johnson, network engineer and network security, works for Sirius Systems Group. Sirius is SimGuild Incorporated's Internet provider. John does a lot of work for us on the Internet portions of our game. He keeps our connection alive and brings it back to life if it dies. John is tall and always wears a big smile and scruffy beard. The beard is always there because he is up night and day working on network connections and other neat stuff.

Csim: Can you put Flying Circus in perspective for us by comparing it to the original Red Baron, Dawn Patrol, and the more recent Flying Corps? Is it more fair to compare this sim to Warbirds?

Simguild: We hope SimGuild's Flying Circus stands on its own, because its game-play is outstanding. It is smooth and responsive. You can even see other players using their rudders during maneuvers. SimGuild's Flying Circus has a large field of view and the other planes can fly right in front of you, with great fidelity. The best thing about it though is it's fun. My next door neighbor is a retired US Army Chief Warrant Officer. He flew in the service for more than twenty years—Five minutes in the Flying Circus Cockpit and his tongue was sticking out and he was hooked!

Csim: Tell us about the design goals. What have you been aiming for and how much have you achieved to date?

Simguild: Originally, we got together and said, "Let's see if we can make an Internet multi-player game". What we have to date does not exceed our original expectations by any means, in fact we still have a long way to go. We have a very realistic flight model, but we think we can make it even better. We also need better ground effects and objects—anti-aircraft guns, munitions dumps, trains, etc.--to bomb or strafe. We are also looking into zeppelins and observation balloons.

What was surprising, to all of us, is how much fun SimGuild's Flying Circus is to play. Of course, we made some concessions to reality for the sake of gameplay, but we were still blown away by how much of a blast it is. (Answered by John Padgett and David Riede)


Csim: Where does it go from here? What are the areas of Flying Circus you are aiming to improve or expand on?

Simguild: We are working on better terrain. This will include ground effects, re-supply, and Air Defense Artillery (ADA). One idea includes trains to bring supplies to the airfields. Enemy aircraft could take out these trains, which would temporarily limit the re-arm, re-fuel, and re-fit capabilities of the affected side. We also have ideas of incorporating bombers and two seaters.

In addition, we have been working on 3D acceleration. Later versions of SimGuild's Flying Circus will include hardware-accelerated aircraft and terrain. (Answered by Derick Gerlock and David W. Riede.)

Csim: Does Flying Circus integrate the ground war at all or is it strictly a dogfight experience?

Simguild: Currently, SimGuild's Flying Circus just has great dogfighting, but integration of ground and air is one of SimGuild's goals for the future. This may include the ability to man ADA guns trucks, or even Tanks. Most of us are military men and we know the combined arms battle is the only way to go. That's where SimGuild's Internet games will go, both WWI, and WWII.

Csim: Will Flying Circus eventually include environmental factors like wind and weather?

Simguild: We have discussed this, but they are not high priorities. (Answered by David W. Riede.)

Csim: What have been the goals in terms of physics and ballistics modelling?

Simguild: The goal for the physics model was to get as close to the real world as possible within the target platform. Right now, that platform is a Pentium class computer with 16MB of ram, a minimum of 100MHz, a PCI video card capable of 640 x 480 x 8 video mode, and a 14.4 modem. Since any physics model is only an approximation to the real world, some design considerations result in trade offs with the modeling.

We have developed a real Rigid Body Dynamics model for the flight model, complete with simplified lift and drag equations, and bullets are subject to drag and gravity (i. e. Ballistics). We are working to improve our aerodynamic modeling, and are continually striving to eek out the most performance possible from our Rigid Body model. As the target platform matures in the future, we will continue to upgrade our modeling.

As a final note: The physics in the game is not treated in a simplistic manner, this stuff is real Engineering and requires in-depth knowledge of Engineering Mechanics to produce. (Answered by John Padgett)

Csim: How many aircraft can the player choose from? Which ones? What new aircraft will be added?

Simguild: Right now, SimGuild's Flying Circus has four planes, the Allied planes are the Sopwith Camel and the Spad. The Central planes are the Fokker DR-1 (The Red Barron's Plane) and the Albatross D-3.

We are almost done with two new planes, one for each side. The Nieuport 28C.1 and the Pfalz D.III. They will probably be released when we start billing. We intend to continue to add planes to SimGuild's Flying Circus as time progresses.


Csim: How much do the flight models vary between aircraft?

Simguild: Right now there are two basic flight models. The Albatross and the Spad are faster, but the Fokker and Camel are more maneuverable.

Csim: Tell us about the flight modelling. How realistic is it? On what have the calculations been based?

Simguild: The flight model consists of a Rigid Body model of an aircraft, a force point, and an aerodynamic model for external forces that are applied to the body. This results in a series of linear and angular acceleration equations, that are integrated over time to produce the velocity and position of an aircraft. The Rigid Body model is relatively easy, from an engineering standpoint, to generate and is universal in its implementation.

The real trick is the aerodynamic model. This is where some real design comes in to make the individual aircraft respond to control movement--like the real thing (or as close to it as your idea of game play will let you). One of the big things that we wanted to see with the flight model was the ability of the model to produce a real stall-induced spin when the proper conditions occurred. This we did accomplish, even with a relatively simple aerodynamic model. (Answered by John Padgett)

Csim: Force immersion technology is also very cool, and Rowan added support to their 3d patch for Flying Corps. Will F Circus support the Immersion I Force technology?

Simguild: Absolutely, we already have force feedback joysticks and the I-Force SDK. It is coming, but we will not include it in the first commercial release.

Csim: Multiplayer is the heart of Flying Circus. How many players can be online at one time?

Simguild: The servers can handle 256 players at one time. Recently, we had 109 players in the WWI Arena, about one month ago, we had at least one player from every continent except Antarctica, all playing at the same time. We have pilots from Australia to Zambia. If we exceed the capability of a single server, it's no problem. Fly all you want, we will add more arenas.

Csim: What is the setting for the multiplayer arena? Is it every man for himself? Must players sign up in a squadron?

Simguild: When you choose a plane, you also choose the corresponding side. For example, If you pick the Red Baron plane, you are automatically on Central's side. A rather cool community is forming. For example, one pilot was getting close to being awarded his "Order of Merit" award. He had only three kills to go. Because his current kills were displayed, the other pilots on his side could see that. A group of them started "covering his six", until he got his award. That was completely ad-lib. The game is starting to take on a life of its own.


So far, squadrons are an informal part of our game, we hope that players learn that flying together is the best way to survive, just like in real combat. We are trying to figure out the best way to formalize squadrons, even allow for squadron artwork that we will display on planes that belong to that squadron. We do post their squadron patches on our web page and we provide a link to their pages. Currently, we have 14 squadrons associated with SimGuild's Flying Circus. We think the squadrons are great. We plan on providing flying incentives for squadrons and their commanders. In future versions of SimGuild's Flying Circus, we plan on incorporating squadron enlistment options as part of the account set-up or log-on. (Answered by David W. Riede)

Csim: I understand that a 3d accelerated version is in the works. Tell us about this project.

Simguild: It will be a while before we have an accelerated version available. Right now, we are working on a general package that takes advantage of the rendering capabilities, of the plethora of new 3D video cards that are becoming available. It will most probably run under W95 and DirectX 5. Anybody worried about that being too slow? Well don't be. Our general design methods will be to use features that are supported directly by the hardware at the lowest level possible. Anything that needs to be done in software, we will produce code for ourselves so we can optimize this to the maximum. (Answered by John Padgett.)

Csim: What 3d features will the new version incorporate, and at what resolutions will it run?

Simguild: Basically, what we are looking at for the 3D version is to offload rendering of polygons to the video card. This will free the main CPU do all the other things that we want. We will definitely include texture mapping, and are developing a lighting model, that includes specular highlights and fog. The possible video resolutions are dependent on our z-buffer debate. If we decide to use a z-buffer we will be able to get no more that 640 x 480 due to the 2MB limit on the frame buffer. If we do not use a z-buffer we will be able to support up to 800 x 600.

Even that little increase in resolution does result in a nicer looking simulation, especially when trying to ID individual craft at distance. As our target platform continues to mature you can expect 1024 x 768 or even higher resolutions with or without a z-buffer. (Man, 1024 x 768 with 16 bit color, perspective correct textures, and a full lighting model really looks great! We already have an in-house demo we are using for development and experimentation). (Answered by John Padgett).

Csim: Will the 3d version be WIN95 only? What chipsets will be supported?

Simguild: Right now, expect WIN95 only. Any chipset that has DirectX drivers will be supported via development with Direct3D.

Csim: What else is on the back burner for SimGuild? Will you do a WWII combat sim also? If so, what aircraft will the player fly?

Simguild: Definitely, a WWII flight sim is on the way. This will probably be a 3D card only game as the target platform for this will probably be a 166MHz Pentium class computer with a 3rd generation 3D accelerated video card. Hopefully we will be able to get at least two arenas up initially with this game, one in the European Theatre and the other a Pacific Theatre game with appropriate aircraft types for the respective theatres.

Also, look for a 3D WWII era armor simulation, complete with Tiger I's and T-34s. In the long run, an integration of the tank sim and the WWII aircraft sim will be worked on. Imagine blowing away your Pzkfw IV driving buddy with your P47D or dusting some dude in a Sherman tank with your Stuka! (Answered by John Padgett, notice the bias to pilots, ha ha.)

Csim: Will SimGuild eventually release a stand alone sim for the player who can't or won't access the internet?

Simguild: SimGuild is keeping all of its options open. We would not shy away from making boxed versions of our games, should those opportunities arise, but right now we are focused on making the best Internet games we can.

Editor: Flying Circus is a free download and free playing at the moment. Around mid February the beta will become 1.0 and then a nominal charge of perhaps $2 per hour will enable Simguild to continue to develop their games. You can contact David Gerlock at David

Csim: Thanks!! Everyone can download the software (1.6 MB) at Flying Circus

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