A 61-year-old Geraldine resident wants to put New Zealand on the map – in a virtual sense. Robin Corn has developed and sold New Zealand flight simulator scenery through his own website, Godzone Virtual Flight, for 15 years. There, he offers stunningly detailed recreations of regions of the country for download.
However, with the local scene dwindling somewhat in recent times, Corn is now running a crowdfunding campaign that will allow him to get more of his scenery into the latest flight sims, including X-Plane 11 and Aerofly FS2. His idea is: regardless of whatever simulator you use, you'll have access to ongoing, quality scenery releases.
The exact areas he will model aren't confirmed, but Corn is working on the Southern Alps and Lakes – which includes a number of airports such as those in Wanaka, Tekapo, and Mount Cook – and he's also keen to tackle Wellington and the Coromandel. The Southern Lakes area in particular is near and dear to him. "I grew up in Christchurch, so if you go on a trip that's where you go," he says.
Corn's Kickstarter has raised more than NZ$11,000 so far – enough to ensure he can work full-time on the project. Any extra will be put towards software and hardware upgrades.
"I'm in a position within the community where people know who I am now, but I have figure out how to turn that into something which is ongoing and self-supporting," he says. "When I think about the alternative – which is go and work for someone else like I've always done – I think no, I'd rather be poor and doing this."
Corn's love of flight sims began in 2000. He was working at a copy centre that won a lot of Microsoft MVP Awards, which meant that company would routinely give him gifts. One such gift was Flight Simulator.
Although Corn had played Microsoft's flight sim back in his Commodore 64 days, it wasn't until this moment that one particular aspect properly gripped him: "I fell in love with the ability to represent my own country in a simulator," he says. "The first thing that inspired me was being able to recognise instantly where I was in the world. So, it has to look like the real thing. It's about being able to model your world… What we have [in NZ] is underrated."
That creation began in 2002, when Microsoft design support software made it a lot easier to model airports. Corn's first creations weren't scenery, rather, they were tutorials to show other creators how to switch from the old way of doing things to the new. However, he soon was the only one creating anything. "For a long time I pushed people to develop stuff," he says, "but in the end, realised: you've got to do it yourself."
Flight sims generally represent scenery two ways: via scenery tiles, or using photo scenery. The latter is Corn's preference because "without photo scenery, New Zealand is just another couple of islands somewhere". Using photos is becoming more and more viable because bandwidth is less of a problem these days, and sims including Aerofly 11 now work best with photo scenery.
"I'm really dying to have a crack at Aerofly 11," Corn enthuses. "Photo scenery is often a bit of a poor relation. It takes up a lot of space and there are limitations based on a single photo set in time. But now we have a simulator that flies on photo scenery."
To create an airport, Corn visits the real thing, takes photos of everything, splices them up, resizes them as textures, and imports them into 3D modelling software. Some developers can make great airports without seeing them in the flesh, but Corn insists on visiting each, which has seen him run into trouble a few times.
"Normally, if you can find one person who knows what you're doing and has an interest in the simulator, you're in!" he exclaims, before confessing: "I have been escorted off airport premises before. I'm not talking about somewhere that I shouldn't have been. A man with a camera at Auckland International… I was standing with a group of photographers doing plane-spotting, and the next minute security turns up and I was banned from the airport for a while."
For his last airport build in Dunedin, Corn sensibly phoned ahead, and upon learning of his endeavour, some folks in Wanaka took him up in their helicopter so he could get a true birds-eye view of the place.
As for scenery outside airports, Corn uses images available on Land Information New Zealand's site, which have hugely increased in quality in the last couple of years. "Normally there's some kind of issues to overcome – colour matching, colour casts, that sort of thing – but this new scenery is a magic sort of a thing," he says. The results speak for themselves. "To fly over the glacier… those are the features that should be in Aerofly. [The glacier] competes with Swiss Alps," he says.
Corn currently supports Microsoft FSX, FSX Steam Edition, and Lockheed Martin's Prepar3d, and is looking to expand into Aerofly FS2, X-Plane 11, and Dovetail Games' Flight Simulator World.
X-Plane started life on Mac, and is now a nice-looking sim that can compete with the others, while Flight Sim World is a new Steam Early Access title that seems to be the current home sim of choice for many. Meanwhile, Aerofly Flight Sim 2 began life as a model aircraft sim, but has grown into a powerful platform – especially for those wanting to use photos.
Corn keeps development costs down by beginning with the same assets for all simulators, and then makes any necessary changes to optimise for each simulator separately. In the past this was easier as sims overlapped to a greater extent, but now each provides its own specialised tools. As such, Corn estimates that 60 percent of the work he puts in can be shared between X-Plane and Aerofly, for example.
The whole flight sim in NZ in particular has crashed recently, but Kickstarter attention has Corn optimistic, and he has additional ideas for his creations. "I have done scenery of the central plateau volcano and things like that, and I'd love to see it used as some sort of education tool at some stage," he says. "I do think there is still a big future to come. [New Zealand] is a much smaller market, but there has to be a way to make it work."