We got the chance to interview Saitek Category Manager, Richard Neville, on their line of Pro Flight products. In case you have not heard of these premium flight-sim peripherals, you may want to check out their selection at the official site. We would like to thank Richard Neville as well as Alex Verrey for their assistance in making this interview possible. Check out bigger images of the above products after the break!
Q) So to start, could you tell us how many people you have working on designing the Pro-Flight peripherals???
A) It varies depending on the product! Usually each product is worked on by one of our product designers with occasional design review meetings where everyone else (well… me) gets to influence things.??.. (cont.)
Q) What kind of a design process is used in developing new Pro-Flight peripherals? How much are real pilots used in this process?
??A) Product ideas come from a combination of researching the market and actually talking to simulation fans – most of our customers need no urging to suggest product ideas and features! We also have contacts with a number of actual pilots who we consult with to further ensure we’re keeping on the right track with everything from features to getting the right ‘feel’ for a controller’s movement.
??Q) What are the biggest challenges faced in developing the Pro-Flight line of peripherals?
??A) Probably the biggest challenge is trying to please as many people as we can. Flight Simulation might be a niche market within the wider context of PC gaming, but as you know within that niche you have a number of different sub-categories of aircraft. Just within civil aviation alone you’ve got to try and account for anything from props to ‘heavy iron’ and all the different variants within each of those. That and trying to squeeze as much into a product as we can so the sim fans feel like they’re getting value for their money.??
Q) The X-52 Pro is a nice improvement over the standard model but why create the incremental ‘Pro’ and not move to the next iteration of the HOTAS series altogether???
A) It was purely a reaction to our customers’ feedback. They loved the X52 but wanted even better build quality and more from it – the MFD is a perfect example; people wanted to display information from their sims on the MFD, so we implemented that feature with the Flight Simulator X Radio Stack display. We also included an SDK so that some of those bedroom coders out there would be able to create plug-ins for their own games; it wasn’t long before there were plug-ins available on our forum for Flight Simulator 9, IL-2 and even X3: The Threat??, but don’t think that we’re not looking into how we can further the HOTAS market – there’s already been some feedback from our customers about where we can go next and we have been listening.
Q) How would you describe the flight simulation market currently???
A) It’s in a tiny bit of a lull at the moment, but that’s mostly because it’s compared to the boom of two years ago with the release of Flight Simulator X. It never truly goes away though – there’s always new people discovering flight simulation for the first time or existing simmers looking to upgrade their hardware, and finally being able to run the newer simulators. It should start picking up again next year thanks to the Black Shark add-on for LOMAC and Oleg Maddox’s Storm of War, to name just two. Even the less strictly simulation-based games like Tom Clancy’s: HAWX should serve to interest more people in the genre. Then of course looking further ahead you’ve got Microsoft’s next version of Flight Simulator which is somewhere over that horizon…??
Q) How is development coming on the Saitek Pro-flight Instrument Panel???
A) It’s good thanks. It’s definitely proven to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done but it’s coming along nicely and we should be getting it out there pretty soon.??
Q) Will the instrument panel have an open-source API???
A) As with the X52 Pro we will be shipping it with an SDK that will enable end users with programming experience to create interactions with other sims (or, indeed, any application that they care to).??
Q) What titles will support the panel at launch???
A) It’s supporting Flight Simulator X out of the box and we’re hoping we’ll get support for other titles from the community, as we did with the X52 Pro. Flight Simulator X is the main focus partly because of the amount of the market who use it but also because of the excellent SimConnect part of the sim, which gives easy access to the data we need to hook into to make a product like this work.??
Q) If you can, tell us about the type and capabilities of the screen being used on the panel.??
A) It’s a QVGA TFT screen that can display 256,000 colours and it looks superb!???
Q) Can you guys drop us any hints on the next Pro-Flight peripherals being developed?
??A) Not yet! But be assured that we are continuing to work on a number of projects.??
Q) And last, is there anything you would like our readers to know about that we have not covered here???
A) Sure – just to remind people about the two new Pro Flight products we’ve got coming this year: the Pro Flight Switch Panel and the Pro Flight Headset. There’s some info out there already but look out for the press releases closer to the products shipping this Fall. Also, if you’ve got a suggestion for a product that you’d like to see then we’re always happy to have your feedback. Use our forum at http://www.saitekforum.com and let us know what you think.?