Question: What’s your “official” title with X-Plane?
Chris Serio: Official title? Mobile Product Manager/Senior Software Engineer/Mobile Marketing Manager/QA Lead/Social Media Specialist/HR Manager/Expert Scotch Drinker/Professional Ranter sums up the daily duties.
Q: Can you provide a little background on yourself?
CS: I’ve been contributing to LR since 2008 but I’ve been programming since 2000 in some capacity. My official background is in Electrical Engineering, not Software or Computer Science, but you can learn anything quickly when you do it for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I also have a Commercial Pilot’s License.
Q: What was your first experience that got you into aviation or X-Plane?
CS: I got my first flight in a Piper Cherokee back in 1997 as part of the EAA’s Young Eagles program. I grew up about 2 miles from a small GA airport and my house is on their downwind leg so I was always interested in aviation. My dad used to take me to airshows too. After the “first flight” I was hooked and my buddy and I signed up for ground school and started our flight training while in high school. We were absolutely obsessed with aviation.
When I wasn’t flying for real, I was flying FS98 and X-Plane. They each had their strengths and weaknesses. I used flight simulation heavily to practice. When I moved on to my instrument rating, X-Plane was especially useful. I’d practice approaches non-stop and then when I got in the real plane, they were routine so I was able to save a lot of money–which was huge because I was only 17 and still working 3 side jobs to pay for my own training.
Q: What type of computer set up do you use? Any hardware or accessories you couldn’t live without?
CS: It may surprise people but we pretty much all have average hardware…not super machines. It’s important that we do most of our testing and development on the type of hardware most users have. My main development machine is a 2013 27” iMac. I also have a PC for Windows and Linux work. It’s just barely average to today’s standards. It’s a Core i5-2500 3.3GHz with a GeForce GTX560Ti and 16GB of RAM. I also have a 2012 Macbook Pro and a desk that’s absolutely littered with every iPad/iPhone and popular Android device you can imagine.
For accessories I have a Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS, CH Products Pedals and a CH Yoke as well. I did a lot of development on making the V10 Desktop joystick back-end more modernized so I needed a device with a ton of buttons and the Thrustmaster looked perfect for that.
Q: Does this differ greatly when using X-Plane for work vs. fun?
CS: What is this ‘fun’ you speak of? 🙂
Q: What’s the most exciting part of working on X-Plane for you?
CS: X-Plane is unlike any other simulator out there because it’s not a flight simulator…it’s a world simulator. EVERYTHING has to be simulated just right in order for users to really feel like they’re in the real world. This means there’s never monotony. You’re always working on something new. Weather, physics, user interface, sound, controls, social media, missions, air traffic control, lighting…it’s all constantly evolving. In other jobs I’ve had, you did essentially the same kind of work over and over again and I would find myself getting bored.
Q: Do you have a favorite aircraft to fly, or a favorite location?
CS: In real life, I love to fly Piper Warriors, Arrows, Mooney and Cessna 172s because they’re readily available and “affordable” though I use the term very, very loosely. I have had experience in turboprops like the Cessna Conquest but mostly smaller GA planes. In the simulator, I love the King Air. I like how rugged and durable it is. It’s like a flying SUV. It’s a multi-purpose aircraft. If anyone reading this wants to bribe me for X-Plane features with some flight time in a real King Air…I can be bribed rather easily. 😉
Q: Do you have a favorite plug in or add on?
CS: Dataref editor? I don’t use X-Plane for leisure that much…if I have free time it’s usually spent trying to get ahead on more work, so I don’t use addons much any longer.
Q: You’re the lead on X-Plane 10 Mobile, and it’s about 1 year old now. Do you have any thoughts about how it changed over the year? Were there any surprises or feedback you weren’t expecting?
CS: I’m not ashamed to admit that I was partially wrong about what I thought users wanted. My goal for the product initially was a mobile flight simulator that was easy enough for a non-aviation-geek to use, yet deep enough in realism that even real world pilots could enjoy themselves…but users wanted more depth than I expected.
We actually do listen to feedback even if we don’t always respond directly to it. It was quickly apparent to me that we needed to add in all of the complexities that users wanted while doing it in a way that’s not frightening to new users. That’s been our new focus for a while now. It’s always a very difficult challenge on a mobile device. We’re limited on device performance, download size, memory and most of all, controls. Using a touch screen instead of a full keyboard + mouse + joystick poses some difficult challenges. Users often ask for MORE scenery, MORE planes but make the downloads SMALLER, make things FASTER. It’s difficult to find the right balance sometimes.
Q: Any insider news you can share about what’s coming up for Mobile?
CS: I can’t give away any secrets just yet but I can say we’re working on some major improvements that users can expect around the spring time as a free update. I think all users from beginners to professional pilots will be impressed. We’re also always working on new aircraft that will be available for in-app purchase. We have some really cool planes coming up!