MisterX is one of the most recognizable names in the X-Plane community and he’s the author of countless libraries and scenery. Meet the guy behind the work.
If you don’t know him you are either not using a lot of custom scenery in X-Plane (or not using it at all) or you are very distracted. MisterX is one of those folks that has his work spread on most of the computers of serious X-Plane users around the world.
MisterX (whose real name’s Justin) has been kind enough to answer some questions for us. We have been using his work for so long that at we at HeliSimmer got really curious to find out a bit more about the person behind the mysterious name.
Hello and thank you so much for doing this interview. The community has known you for several years already and you are, indeed, one of the best-known developers of scenery for X-Plane. Would you like to present yourself and let us know a bit more about you?
Thanks for having me, Sérgio. I’ve been developing X-Plane scenery for three and a half years now. Aside from that, I’m currently studying for a degree in Software Engineering.
I always had an interest in aviation ever since a was a little kid. Both of my parents are private pilots, so they often took me on trips with a Cessna on the weekends.
When and how did it all start? Did you start with X-Plane?
I was introduced to flight simming by my older brother, who was playing FS95 at the time. From then on, I played all the different flight sims from Microsoft, all the way up to FSX.
I eventually grew tired of FSX and took a break from flight simming. X-Plane 10 was actually the thing that got me back into it, I remember trying the demo and being fascinated by the night lighting.
There weren’t a lot of good scenery available at the time, so that’s why I decided to get into scenery development myself. I saw that X-Plane has a lot of potential and wanted to help it grow by providing high quality scenery.
How do you usually select what your next project will be? Is it out of your own necessity or do you listen to the community?
It’s usually a bit of both. As you can imagine I’m constantly receiving requests from the community, and I always take the time to at least get a quick look at the airport that’s being suggested to me.
From then on I just decide what’s both popular with the community and interesting for myself as well.
What’s usually your process for developing your scenery and what tools do you use? You must have a well-defined workflow by now.
Before I actually start working on an airport, I try to collect all the information I can. So I look around the internet for charts, reference photos, and all kinds of information. Sometimes I also get help from members of the community who send me their photos of the airport.
For 3D modelling, I’ve always used Blender. It gets a lot of criticism for its clunky user interface, but it’s actually a really efficient tool if you’re experienced with it, since a lot of things can be done using hotkeys. It also trumps other free alternatives like SketchUp by providing a wider selection of features, most notably texture baking, which is absolutely crucial to produce realistic looking objects.
I usually do all my texturing in Photoshop CC, it’s one of the cases where I think it’s actually worth it to pay the premium for the professional software. GIMP can be used as a free alternative, but it doesn’t really come close to all the features Photoshop offers.
Do you ever get to follow the kind of unspoken rule “art is never finished, only abandoned”? I mean, is there a point in which you simply know you need to let go, or you’ll never release your work?
I think that does apply to a certain extent. I’m never 100% happy with my scenery, there are always things that I feel like I could have done better or features that I didn’t get to implement because of time constraints.
But, as you said, at a certain point reality kicks in and you realize that you simply have to let go, even if you didn’t get to do all the things you originally planned.
That said, what’s the project that has been the one you’d see as your flagship? That one scenery that is pretty much sums up what you believe your work should always be?
I think the second version of my San Francisco scenery has been one of my best thus far. It includes so many different landmarks and little details all over the city.
Of course there’s the famous Golden Gate bridge, the skyline, Alcatraz, but also a lot of smaller details where you have to look really closely to notice them. For example, there are animated streetcars driving around the city, and you can even see the famous sea lions at Pier 39.
I think my Catalina Island scenery had a lot of wasted potential. It’s not necessarily bad, but there are so many things that I cut in order to finish the scenery sooner. I was developing my Boston scenery at the same time and everybody was waiting for that one, so I decided to just get Catalina Island out as soon as possible so I can focus on Boston.
I actually had a lot of really cool ideas like animated bison wandering around the island, or a big yacht with a helipad that you can actually land on, but I scrapped a lot of these ideas in favor of finishing the scenery sooner.
So that is definitely a project that I would like to revisit in the future. It’s a beautiful island, and I really want to make a scenery that actually does it justice.
What’s the sensation of being such a highly respected author in the community? You know a lot of people out there use your work not only as the final scenery but also your libraries to create their own. How does that feel like?
It feels great to see my scenery being used by so many people. We have a lot of amazing content creators in this community, taking screenshots, making videos or doing live streams, and it’s always exciting to spot some of my work somewhere.
What drives you to do all this? What pushes you forth and makes you want to do the next project?
I think my main motivation is that I want to constantly improve myself. With every new scenery, I want to surpass my last one, and raise the bar for scenery as a whole. I’m always looking for ways to add more details, more features, better modelling etc…
What’s on your table right now? What project(s) are following next?
I just released my scenery for Albuquerque (KABQ), so I’ll be keeping an eye on that to see if any issues arise that need my attention.
I’m also working on a replacement package for X-Plane’s trees, since that’s been a common request from the community. The current default trees haven’t been updated for several X-Plane versions, and they’re really starting to show their age. So what I want to do is to completely revamp all the forests in the game with new high-definition trees, and possibly seasonal textures.
Another thing I’m working on right now is the next version of my scenery library. My latest scenery, Albuquerque, includes some really cool new features like detailed animated jetways, or taxiway signs that actually spill light onto the ground, and I want to bring some of those features to my library so that everyone can benefit from them.
And of course there’s also my next big project, which I’m not quite ready to reveal yet. Keep an eye out on the x-plane.org forums to see the announcement in the coming weeks.
You are, obviously, using Laminar’s WED tool. What is it that you’d like Laminar to change or add about it? Are you also waiting for a way to edit mesh easily like most of the scenery developers out there (laughs)?
WED is a pretty solid tool, and from what I’ve seen it is way ahead of similar SDKs for other simulators.
Overall I’m pretty happy with it, I only have a few minor nitpicks. One thing that sometimes annoys me is that WED tends to get really sluggish for large airports with lots of objects, so it would be nice if that would be optimized a bit. It would also be nice to have the ability to draw actual roads, similar to Overlay Editor.
I agree that an easy to use mesh editor would be great, but that would only be part of the solution. What we also need is the ability to have localized meshes, for example covering only one airport.
The DSF format that X-Plane scenery use only supports having a mesh for a whole tile. So if you ship a scenery with a modified mesh based on the default scenery, then it completely replaces all other meshes that a user might have installed. So, for example, Ortho4XP users can’t use their photo-scenery in the vicinity of your airport; they will have a random square of default scenery, which is obviously not ideal. Instead, scenery developers should be able to define a localized mesh that only applies to the airport area and just blends in with whatever mesh is installed for that area.
Of course something like that would probably require some deeper changes to the inner workings of X-Plane’s scenery system.
I’d like to end with a pro tip from you. What would you like to say to anyone that’s starting their path on developing scenery for X-Plane?
I think it’s important that you have a goal in mind. Maybe you want to put a certain landmark in the game, or maybe you want to make a better scenery for your home airport. And then, you can just start working towards that goal and pick up the necessary skills along the way. That’s basically how I started, at first I just wanted to put the Golden Gate Bridge into X-Plane since I was disappointed by the lack of landmarks when I first tried X-Plane.
So in order to achieve that, I first had to learn how to model it, then how to texture, and finally how I can actually put my model in the game.
Thank you once again for your time and for allowing the community to know you a bit better. I would like to thank you for all your amazing and hard work and I wish you go on for many, many years. In behalf of our community (I hope the community forgives me for speaking for them), thank you very much.