I swore to myself that I wouldn’t get all sappy with some kind of “year in review” schmaltz, nor would I mention the dreaded r-word this year. Mostly, I’m a forward-looking guy, after all. But while walking my dogs in the soggy park this evening, I got to thinking about all the things that have changed in my life since I first discovered flight simming. And wouldn’t you know it; counting backwards, I discovered that I’ve been doing the simulation thing for just about ten years now. Forgive me, but there’s just no way I can resist a milestone as juicy as that.
Never let anyone tell you fate doesn’t exist. It was the year 2000, the dreaded Y2K, and I was in a computer store with my son. I’d been in high-tech for about six years by then, but had never been much interested in gaming on the PC. As my kid searched for his next role-playing obsession, I perused the gaming aisle. Gazing across the boxes, my eye stopped on a copy of Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator 1. What the heck, I thought, it’s cheap enough, and it could be a lark. I got an inexpensive joystick to go with it, and headed for the checkout stand. Little did I know what had just happened.
Most of you reading this are in to ‘simming, so you know what came next. After flying in CFS for a while, I picked up a copy of Flight Simulator 2000 and started monkeying around with the 747, learning about ILS approaches and how to set up the autopilot. Then came the need for a yoke and rudder pedals. Then I found that I needed a faster computer. Then I started wondering how cool it would be to set up my own cockpit at home. And then… well, then I was a goner.
Even though I was having a blast, my enthusiasm for sim flying might have waned over the next year or two if I hadn’t discovered the online FS community. Instead of moving on to other hobbies, I got further enmeshed (so to speak) in the FS world as I began to download, collect, and finally create my own bush-flying sceneries. Once I uploaded my first project in December 0f 2002 and got a positive reaction from my fellow fliers, I began to plan more, bigger, and better projects. Flightsim went from a hobby to an obsession.
And what an obsession! Over the years, I’ve crisscrossed the United States, attending FS conferences in Philadelphia, Denver, San Diego, and Seattle. I’ve not only made hundreds of new friends in online forums, I’ve gotten to meet quite a few of them in person at one point or another. It’s funny, but the stereotype of a computer gamer is a sad loner, holed up in his room with a stack of empty pizza boxes, fragging bad guys on-screen. In my experience with ‘simmers, we’re a gregarious lot — about as far as you can get from that image.
Thanks to my FS buddies, I’ve blurred the line between sim and reality by getting to fly a Level-D full-motion 737 simulator at the 2004 Avsim Conference. Then I erased the line altogether in 2005, when I started taking real-world flight lessons. I’ll never forget my first solo cross-country, cruising alone at 10,000 feet over Oregon’s coast range. Behind me, the snowy peaks of the Cascade range glowed, in front, I could see the dark blue expanse of the Pacific. It would not be exaggerating to say that I owed that experience to my fateful encounter with CFS1 years before.
At the risk of sounding crass, FS has become a hell of a business for me, as well as a source of pleasure. Yes, there are much easier ways to make money. The FS add-on market is small and fractured, and yet over the years my scenery-building income has steadily grown in proportion to the other things I do, to the point where I can devote a substantial block of time to it each week. Even as the world economy collapsed and Microsoft announced they were disbanding the Aces team, 2009 was my best year yet as far as scenery sales went. For that, I owe every one of you out there an enormous thank-you.
I thank you not just for ponying up your hard-earned cash for my work, but for being enthusiastic, and sharing with others your joy at using those sceneries. There’s nothing quite so gratifying as seeing a series of screenshots of my work shared by a happy customer with his friends.
Okay, that’s about enough rambling. Let me just say once again how thankful I am for the tremendous community that’s centered around digital flight. You guys and gals make it more than a hobby, more than a job–you make it fun. And, to quote Arthur Bach, isn’t fun the best thing to have? I’ve got a whole box full of great projects for the coming year, some of which are darned near ready for release. Stay tuned and watch this space, because as good as the oughts were, the next decade is going to blow your socks off!
Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s all remember to take care of one another, and along the way, let’s enjoy ourselves.