AMA With Philippe Rollin

August, 30, 2020 by ,

We had an AMA “Ask Me Anything” with Philippe Rollin, Infinite Flight Co-Founder and Developer, where the members in our group got a chance to ask him questions, live. Here are all of the questions and answers from our members and Philippe.

How did you and Laura become code buddies and how long did it take to make Infinite Flight before it was first announced?
We kind of knew each other from engineering school (Paris, I was a year ahead). We ended up in the same company in the US (NVIDIA) and became friends here. Laura was already working on a flight simulator on and off and when Microsoft decided to cancel Flight Simulator in 2009 we joined forces.
It took us about 6 months from 1 code commit to release on Windows Phone in March 2010.

How’s Project Metal [going]?
Long road still ahead. It is basically changing a plane engine while the plane is flying.

You can read more about Project Metal here.

What’s your favorite food?
All the ones I shouldn’t have.

What Gaming PC do you have?
I have 2, one Intel i9 and one AMD Threadripper. Intel is fitted with a 2080 RTX and 64GB of RAM, the AMD with an older 1080 Ti and 128GB of RAM (because it is used for scenery processing).

Picture this – you have a team of 50 developers and unlimited money. Your goal is to create a fully functioning space sim. How would you do it? What would you want it to be?
“Fully functioning” is subjective; it means something different for everyone. I would build the tools to scale but start releasing just 1 planet and build over time using community feedback. This type of games (much like IF) are never ending so it is better to have a narrow focus.

Open world story driven games (Horizon ZD, etc) or linear/level-based ones (TLoU, etc). Why?
I have Horizon but haven’t finished it yet. I absolutely love TLoU and Uncharted series, best story telling in games (better than Horizon imho).

When you first started in Infinite Flight, did you feel like you wanted to contribute 100% effort into it? Or you wanted it to be a side project you want to do and work on something else?
It was a side project at first; Laura was the optimistic one; I was more cautious with my optimism since the mobile market can be very volatile. We quickly realize we had something special though.

Did you ever think that Infinite Flight would get this popular?
Honestly no, but I am happy it did.

I’m always fascinated how much effort you developers put into Infinite Flight. What motivates you to work on Infinite Flight? Do you ever get bored of it?
Working on a ton of different things all the time. Not working for anyone else. Some tasks are boring but as long as I am learning something, it is fun.

What do you hope for the future of Infinite Flight?

Why is it that we rarely see you flying?
I don’t have the same passion for the flying part of aviation than Laura (or most other staff member) but I love the field and the amount of knowledge it requires.

There’s been an issue in Infinite Flight since the release of Global, namely that airports and airplanes are visible through terrain? What’s the technical challenge in fixing an issue like this and might Project Metal offer some help here?
It was actually there before global too IIRC. It has to do with the virtually infinite view distance we offer in IF (more than any other sim, even MSFS2020). It is a side effect of the choices we made to make that possible. It is fixable, we just haven’t gotten around to it. The focus is indeed on Project Metal for anything Graphics Related. It should help in the sense that we will have more options to fix it.

What’s your favorite cookie type?
The ones my partner makes; she makes mean chocolate chip cookies with a few toffee pieces that are to die for (soft on the inside).

Was it the ultimate goal from the beginning to create a simulator with global scenery and airports instead of regions?
We quickly [realized] the limit of regions and wanted to bring a full simulator experience to mobile.

How long have you planned to switch from OpenGL ES to Metal?
A couple years on and off but this has now been my focus since the beginning of the year.

Have you ever been approached by another company to buy Infinite Flight?
Yes but we were not interested.

How did your passion for planes start?
Playing F/A-18 Hornet from Graphics Simulation.

Do you like pizza?
Absolutely! Best pizza in San Francisco (at least for me) for those interested.

What’s the end goal with Project Metal?
Making it easier to experiment and release new graphics features.

What was your expectations when you and Laura first started?
Free ourselves from Corporate America. More seriously, we didn’t have set expectation, we were just excited to work on something we were passionate about.

What is a good way to get into programming?
Find something simple you want to build/do that require some programming and use online resources (tutorials, etc.) to achieve your goal. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but having a specific goal help a lot with focus, especially when there are SO MUCH stuff you can learn.

What is a good way to learn C#?
Find something fun you want to build in C#, and do it using online tutorials. There are so many resources online now. (in my time I had to go to the library to find a book to learn, and it was in a language I didn’t speak at the time)

How did you get into programming and aviation?
Programming, my dad brought an old computer home and I was curious. Aviation, mostly through Laura but I was a big fan of old military sims.

Is Infinite Flight your full time job or do you have another job?
IF is our full time job.

Your name sounds french, are you?

In your opinion what was the most difficult aspect to cope with or add when working with infinite flight over these years and why?
Global was difficult because we started not knowing at all where to start. Also it was a big investment for the company but thankfully it paid off.

If you can add or rework one aircraft in or to the Infinite Flight fleet what would it be and why?
Concorde of course, though I wouldn’t look forward to [implementing] all those gauges.

What are some challenges that arose from creating Infinite Flight? What was difficult? What was surprisingly easy?
Global was complex because we didn’t know where to start. UI is often overlooked and extremely complex to get right. We have to deal with different resolutions and screen density. Trying to fit all that information on small screens is not an easy task. I do believe we are doing a decent job there but there is always room for improvement.

Has Infinite Flight already surpassed your expectations of a perfect mobile flight sim? Or do you still think there’s work to be done? What I mean is, is this what you envisioned when you first came up with the idea?
Far from it. There is always work to be done on flight sims.

If you were to remove one feature from Infinite Flight, what would you remove and why. Maybe a feature you thought would work differently?
Interesting question! Maybe I would remove many legacy aircraft and focus on a small set until we figure out all the technical challenges to have all the feature we want. When we add a new aircraft feature, updating all the aircraft we have is a complex process.

How does it feel to know that you didn’t just co-create a simulator, you also co-created a community of aviation enthusiasts?
To me personally that is the best part of this job, especially when I get to meet some of you at the few events we did (and hopefully in the future as well).

How long would Project Metal take to complete if the game was to be put on standby while you guys work on it?
Hard to tell. At some point we will all have to work on it to fix all the various issues that will surely pop up.

What is the thing you want the most to accomplish with IF?
Make everyone in the community happy, though it might be an impossible task.

How much of coding Infinite Flight do you do in a day and how many bugs do you encounter each day?
Varies, 6-8 hours, sometimes more, lot of it is research too. Bugs are part of the job but I have no idea how many per day.

Do you see the price of subscription going up as more people and features come into the game?
No. I think our pricing model is fair and sustainable for us for the foreseeable future.

Where do you see Infinite Flight going?
As far as we can take it.

Do you see Flight Development Studios expanding past Infinite Flight?
There is so much to do in a flight sim that I don’t think we would have the time for another project unless IF dies off and we need to do something else. Our technology could be used for all kind of sims that require an entire seamless planet.

Is legacy code a problem in the current development pipeline of Infinite Flight?
Absolutely; some part of our code is now 10yo, it makes it harder to change but we are learning to make that less of an issue.

How [do you] manage and not loose motivation while doing long programming projects?

Long walks by the beach and baking bread.

What is the plan for the next 10 years of Infinite Flight and will there be any sort of celebration for this year?
We tend to take it one release at a time. We mostly go where the community is taking us.

If you were trapped on a deserted island and you had to pick a community member to team up and survive with, who would you pick and why would it be me?
Is your name Damian?

While hard at work, how easily do you loose focus?

Who likes unicorns more? You or Misha?
The fact that Misha looks like a unicorn should answer that question (all love Misha).

Do you like attending events and connecting with members (like EAA AirAdventure)?
I love to meet community members at events. It is harder for me to connect online but I love to talk to people face to face and listen to their stories and how they came to IF. Hopefully we can do more events in the future.

Why work for Infinite Flight when you could work for a larger company?
Simply because Laura and I created Infinite Flight and we wouldn’t want to work for anyone else, even for a million dollars.

I’m currently studying Business Administration but I’m really interested in coding as well. No experience though. I’m thinking about switching my studies to Computer Science. Is this something you can recommend or would rather learn coding on your own instead of studying it?
I think coding schools like Lamda and Holberton are a good way to quickly see if you are interested without wasting a huge amount of time/money in the process.

Companies are changing and what school you went to doesn’t matter as much as real world experience.
As I mentioned in another reply, focus on what you want to build instead of how you build it, especially when starting. It is easy to get lost in the mass of knowledge.

We would like to thank Philippe for taking the time to answer all of our questions. I feel we got to know him a lot more. Best questions as of yet from everyone in the group. You can download Infinite Flight on the App Store and Google Play Store. Follow Infinite Flight on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

If you’d like to join in discussions such as this with like-minded people like yourself and experts, I’d encourage you to join our group here.

Kai Malcom is a writer for the IFATC Education Group. Kai is an IFATC Specialist, student pilot, web developer and third-party developer.