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August 28th 2010 08:48 pm
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Diary of a Test Pilot (Part 1)
What F-Sim Space Shuttle needs Test Pilots?
Normally a person who tests computer games, applications, utilities and operating systems before release is called a Beta Tester. However if you look on the credits on F-Sim Shuttle, that term is missing, Sascha Ledinsky has renamed it to something more fitting, Test Pilots. Technically this is correct, as we spend many hours at home, work, on trains, and half asleep, testing F-Sim Shuttle, flying the shuttle correctly and incorrectly. Although we haven't matched the hours a real life astronaut does, we're catching up :)

We test fly the simulated Orbiter, using all different combinations of conditions available; weather, failures, disabled autopilot features, different start points, etc. These test include testing new additions to the simulation, making sure that they don't interfere with the existing elements. Then finally, we check that all the menus work and that all speeling are correck. Not the most exciting part, but it's necessary.

Typically Sascha will introduce features gradually in the early test versions, allowing us Test pilots to provide feedback regarding it's use and suitability; could it be better, if so, how can it be made to perform better?

After testing the normal use of F-Sim, we then abuse it to see if something we're not supposed to do will produce the correct response. For example, heavy landing will burst the tire(s) or crash... (thankfully it is a simulator).

Once all the testing is done, we have to repeat the same tests on different platforms, itouch, iPhone and now the iPad. By the way, with the upcoming ipad version, you'll be in for a visual treat :) My advice, save up for an iPad.

After many hours of testing, we relay back our findings back to Sascha, who'll then make any adjustments. After a few frantic days and nights of sorting through the code and squashing the bugs, Sascha will then issue a new test version and start the process again, and again, and again, until we are all happy with the outcome.

Once all the major bugs are eliminated and all of the features are added, the testing phase moves to the Release Candidate (RC) phase, which has all the features and enhancements that will appear in the release/final version of the simulator. It's also a time to iron out of any minor bugs. The last successful RC version is then released to the public at large via the app store.

The Next Version...
Version 1.4.4 (number not confirmed) is primarily to make the simulator iPad usable, which in early testing has had a round of thumbs up from all of the Test Pilot's.

Currently we're testing the virtual flight deck on both the iPhone and iPad. So far, the flight deck has only has the the windows and a basic HUD frame for the CDR seat. Even with the missing panels and a basic HUD, on the iPhone this looks great, however, for the iPad it looks absolutely fantastic.

Sascha has done a great job with how you move and look around the Flight Deck, just by using simple commands with your fingers. Using one finger allows you to look around. Two finger pinch performs view zoom. Finally three fingers give you the ability to move side to side, forwards and backwards. Whilst paused in mid flight, you'll be able to move the view around, allowing for great screen shots. Resetting the view is done by double tapping you fingers.

In a later test version, the HUD is going to have a few improvements, both technically and cosmetically, making more realistic. Sascha has done a lot of research into how the HUD works and appears, discovering about how the real Orbiter's HUD has the overlay focused at an infinite point, making the HUD symbology appears over the runway, PAPI lights, etc.

The menus are being overhauled as well. Some of the menu/settings are being reorganised on the iphone in a more logical order. For the ipad, Sascha is making a new interface as there is a lot of space to use. As well as the menu updates, the scoring in Open Feint is having a few additions. Nothing is finailised yet, but one major change is for bad, yet, survivable landings, like minor damage to landing gear, to have the chance to score. But it will be very low score. Testing this is has been harder then getting perfect scores. How do you land badly and not trash an expensive piece of hardware? A new scoreboard for bad landings?

Hopefully, soon, there will be more screen shots and more information regarding the next version.

PLT George "Desktopsimmer" Winnard.

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