During the course of Take On Helicopters' development, the team were presented with several opportunities to experience the varied world of rotor-wing flight! Be it air-shows, ride-alongs or cooperation with experts, we embraced any chance we could to help improve and expand our knowledge, and try to feed that back into the game!
In the third part of our look at development field trips, Project Lead, Joris-Jan van 't Land, reports on the day a Robinson R44 came to visit the studio, and some of our brave developers got a chance to get behind the cyclic!
Flight of the Ravens
Perhaps the most spectacular of our real-life helicopter experiences happened on the 15th of July 2011, in our office backyard. Pilot Petr "Čerčil" Černý, flew a Robinson R44 Raven helicopter to our office and landed on the grass next to our pond (yes, we have our own fishing pond). We were offered the unique opportunity to actually take on piloting a helicopter ourselves, under the careful supervision of our instructor. As you can maybe tell from the photos, the landing area is not the easiest: there's only a small patch of grass next to the pond and it's sloped slightly. To make it more challenging, the whole area is surrounded by tall trees and of course the office itself. The relative ease with which Petr managed to touch down every time was incredible.
The day started with an on-ground theory lesson. All soon-to-be pilots were explained the important components of the helicopter inside and out. We basically went through a full and thorough pre-flight check, providing knowledge we could directly apply to our in-game procedures and training lessons. It goes without saying that we also took a huge amount of photo and video reference at the same time. Our sound engineer was once again at work capturing the various lift-offs and landings from different angles. This proved difficult at times, because the many spectators could not always control their enthusiasm and he required absolute silence (other than the beautiful turbine engine sounds).
Now, listen carefully!
Next came the part many of us had been eagerly waiting for. We were allowed five beginner lessons, to try basic forward flight, banking and even hovering! Each flight had space for one trainee pilot, an additional passenger, and of course the instructor himself. We had already selected the people we thought would most benefit from the experience. The lucky pilots were: lead programmer, configuration specialist, lead Quality Assurance and training lesson designer. The passengers were: cameraman, lead world design, lead artist and creative director. Everyone had awesome experiences and it was really useful both for tuning the game itself, and as a team motivator before going into the final development stretch. One example of direct feedback was on how long the engine starter could be used before causing damage. The lead programmer discussed this during his flight, went back to coding, and thirty minutes later it was improved in the game.
With all the lessons completed, most of us still buzzing with adrenaline, Čerčil was invited into the office to try a build of the game itself. The initial set-up confirmed once again how important it is to configure controllers and sensitivities exactly to your personal liking. The QA computer he started on had sensitivities set fairly low, and Petr was not comfortable flying. After tweaking it, he was able to quickly do things in the game we were not able to ourselves after playing it for months. With almost undetectable movements of the input controls, he landed the in-game Light helicopter directly on a helipad (Expert settings). Of course this being pre-Alpha, there still was plenty of feedback we received from Petr. Some significant tweaks to the way the flight dynamics function were implemented after this visit, as well as more subtle things only a real pilot would spot.
Mrs. R44, you're trying to seduce me...
The final part of the day was a fortunate coincidence for some of the team members living in Prague. The bus had just left and the instructor needed to fly back to his home base. The two goals were quickly merged and it resulted in a great way to commute home from work. The executive producer was the trainee pilot this time, with the technical design lead and project lead as passengers in the back. The flying and banking was impressively stable for a beginner; the hovering a little too exciting. Even though the instructor had control all the time, sitting in the back of a helicopter moving in all directions just one meter above the grass, raised our heart rates somewhat. After the instruction flight was completed, we landed on an airfield between the office and Prague to refuel, before flying to the helicopter's private hangar. It was an unforgettable day, very useful, and we wish we could have had many more such hands-on sessions.