Interview With the Ground-Crew

May 22nd, 2009

For the launch of this new member of the “ssm-fans” family, we have asked the members of the “SSM ground-crew” to give us some glimpses into their thoughts about and plans for SSM.

Guys, first of all thank you for freeing some time to speak with us. For starters, what can you tell us about the origins of SSM? What drove the you to start developing the sim?

The initial drive for developing SSM was the fact that after Virgin’s “Shuttle”, nobody really took the challenge of developing a Shuttle simulator to match the modern PC technology. That left us with an outdated sim which became more and more incompatible and less and less pleasant to the eye, and with a burning desire to fly the Shuttle and its more challenging missions. All of the SSM 2007 Ground Crew members have been avid Virgin “Shuttle” gamers.

Over the last year and half since the game was released, we have seen the team release  Service Packs on a more or less monthly basis, most of them containing missions. How do you guys feel with the progress made with the sim so far in the past year and a half?

We believe we’ve made quite a leap. Looking back at the progress we are quite satisfied: we’ve added support for the latest and coolest in VR and display technology (TripleHead2Go Digital, TrackIR: Pro, stereoscopy and head tracking for Vuzix Iwear 920) and added new missions and cool features at an incredible rate of one mission per month while improving the sim’s stability, performance and compatibility. If we only count the number of free missions released over the last year, we firmly believe that we’ve given our users more value for money and more playability than they’ve ever imagined when they initially bought the sim.

We are also proud of our support. Today we commit to a “within 48 hours” response time for support tickets and only during UTC business hours. In other words, not on holidays, not on weekends and not 24 hrs/day. HOWEVER, we’ve significantly exceeded that commitment. Users can attest that we provide support also during weekends and holidays, way beyond the “UTC business hours” and much faster than “within 48 hours”, sometimes even instantly. The complete turnaround depends of course of the responsiveness of the users, but basically we meet and exceed our commitments in the support area by far.

The official community forum has become a “watering hole” for a vibrant and professional community of Space and Space Shuttle enthusiasts, helping each other and coming up with interesting suggestions to improve the product. The forum has also gave birth to several “gurus” who went beyond helping people, and set up their own SSM2007-specific sites and services, namely the SSM2007 Wiki, maintaining the Wikipedia SSM2007 entry, TeamSpeak and now, this site!

Last, we’ve received recognition from the professional flight simulation community, with excellent reviews in the most popular portals and printed magazines, from the astronomy community by featuring in the “BBC Sky at Night” magazine (and I heard that also in one of their TV episodes), various Astronomy Conventions and of course, from NASA which has invited us last December to feature the sim at their IITSEC 2008 booth in Orlando and meet with their Simulation Directorate staff.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment with this sim so far?

We’ll sum this up in one sentence, coming from one of the NASA simulation specialists (also quoted in our forum):

‘[SSM2007 is] a serious simulation game that entertains and subtly teaches young and old about space. Participants get to experience incredibly realistic space shuttle missions which enable them to “get it” — to understand why exploration matters’

This kind of recognition indicates that our purpose to popularize the knowledge of the Space Shuttle Program and Space Exploration is on the right track. To be fully satisfied, we hope to see one day a NASA or ESA Astronaut say “…my desire to become an Astronaut started when I installed SSM2007, 10 years ago”…

On January you have announced that the mission rate will slow down in favor of extra new features. Can you tell us how many missions are you expecting to add by the end of the year? Would the Dev team prefer to add easy missions (STS-47 and similar) or harder ones (like STS-100 and STS-51A that we have seen lately)?.

Our plan is to release 6 new missions this year, which means that there are only four left. (STS-401 and STS-100 were released on January and May – Uri) We may change this decision and add another mission or two, but that’s not certain.  Since we are talking about only a few missions, we are very careful in choosing them. We have several candidates already. We’re basically looking for adding challenging and/or historically-significant missions.

Can you tell us what areas in the game are more probable to receive an overhaul in the coming year? We have already seen the HUD Revised, and winds introduced in the last few months.

We have been watching the Suggestion board on our forum very closely and building a prioritized wish list. If we feel that something should and can be provided in this version, we will. We don’t have a rigid plan and we are happy to mostly reacting to users’ requests. There have been some very good suggestion there from some very smart (and reasonable) users. Some suggestions have already been implemented, some will be in this version and some will have to be postponed for the next version.

We have learned from the Twitter that the Dev team has shifted direction toward working on SSM2010, can you tell us something about the new features planned to this exciting new version? when could we expect some samples (screenshots/videos)?

Many of the more popular requests will be fulfilled: higher res Earth Textures, additional missions, clickable 3D cockpit, although we are a bit concerned that the usefulness of this feature is limited due to the high number of switches and their density. We feel that most of the time,  most of the users will prefer using 2D panels anyway. Maybe we’ll decide to go for a “limited” 3D clickable cockpit where we’ll add the most used buttons/knobs, etc. instead of populating the entire cockpit. After release, we may add more switches as we feel the feedback from our users. We plan a revamped and more useful MCC, and a host of new features that we prefer for now to keep to ourselves Wink.

We cannot foresee when we’ll be able to present sneak previews of the work in progress, but if we look back to the initial release, we were able to show something as early as 6 months before the official release.

In addition to those “eye candies” you have just mentioned, could we also expect some improvements to the shuttle systems and added functionality in SSM2010?

Yes, of course, But we cannot elaborate on that yet – it’s too soon. Sorry.

SSM’s current protection against piracy has been awarded with some “colorful” nicknames in the past. Do you believe that this level of control over user activation is helping to reduce piracy? Would some form of the current “in-house protection” would be protecting SSM2010 or are you still considering other alternatives that would require less human involvement in the process?

Thank you for this question Uri. We are always looking for solutions to reduce piracy, together with reducing our workload as a result of the copy protection and activation service and no less important, reducing end-user frustration while keeping the extra cost down. Unfortunately we will not be able to totally eliminate copy protection and we are not going to apologize for that. The way we look at it, we are protecting ourselves from theft. Keeping  doors fully open (eliminating copy protection)  hasn’t stopped thieves from coming into houses and stealing – on the contrary.

Until educators manage to change this despicable behavior, we and all the rest of the honest people have to live with the disadvantages of a copy protection system (just like installing burglar alarms and locks at home) while fighting software piracy on every occasion and on every level.

What would happen to SSM2007 after SSM2010 would be released? I assume activations would still be available, but would it mean SSM2007’s End-Of-Life, SP wise? or we will see some minor bug fixing patches for some time after SSM2010 hits the “street”?

Too early to tell. It is very likely that mission and feature-wise, SSM2007 will stop evolving, but if serious bugs will still be found, we may fix them anyway as far as up to 6 months after SSM2010’s release. After that, we freeze the code and work exclusively on SSM2010 and the NEXT version Smile

And finally, How do you think the end of the Space Shuttle program will affect the future development of the sim?

We are looking forward towards many years of SSM development. We haven’t covered all the missions yet, and as PC, display and interfacing technology progress, we are sure we can make use of them even more than we do today. We have some very cool ideas on how to expand SSM (not only missions) and we believe that that will add more opportunities to our users to experience SSM from new perspectives with each new SSM release.

Thank you again for your time, and we’re all looking forward for things to come.

 

 

Posted by uri_ba

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