Interview: Stormbirds; Looking Back 5 Years of Operation
Over the years I have noticed that there are not that many websites solely dedicated to covering flight games like us at Skyward, and even less that approach them on a journalistic way. One of these would be Stormbirds, a blog ran by ShamrockOneFive!
A couple of weeks ago, Stormbirds was celebrating their fifth anniversary. We decided to approach Shamrock in order to talk a bit about how has it been running the blog on his own, his motivations for running it, the experiences he has had along the way, etc.
I'd like to thank Shamrock for letting me have this interview with him on such short notice. He made the interview roll smoothly, I appreciate that a lot.
Hello and thank you for accepting to have this interview. Can I ask you to introduce yourself? Sure! My name is Colin and I go by ‘ShamrockOneFive’ in most of the sims (and games) that I play. Before we get into talking about the Stormbirds blog, we’d like to learn some more about yourself. How did you end up becoming a flight simulator enthusiast?
My interest starts with my lifelong interest in all things that fly. I’m told that I was only a couple of years old when I began pointing at the sky in excitement whenever an aircraft flew over. I went to my first airshow at the age of five and I’ve been fascinated by all aspects of aviation ever since. I have a large collection of books on aviation and history, I enjoy airshow photography, and I love flight simulations as an extension of that interest.
In retrospect, not much has changed over the years as I still point excitedly at the sky whenever an aircraft flies over!
I think my first flight sim was A-10 Tank Killer by Dynamix but the sim I first fell in love with was Aces of the Pacific by the same studio. I played that sim whenever I had time. From there I played a variety of different flight sims. Aces Over Europe, F-15E Strike Eagle II and III, Fleet Defender, various iterations of Microsoft Flight Simulator, a tiny bit of Lock On: Modern Air Combat and the IL-2 series before jumping into the modern titles.
Are there any simulators or flight games in general that are especially important to you? Maybe something you’d suggest to people?
Right now, there are four or five sims that I’m focused on writing about and personally enjoying as well. I tend to write about what I am interested in as a starting point, so these are sims that I recommend on a regular basis but also spend a great deal of time enjoying myself.
On the civil aviation side, I really enjoy both Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane. Both have their upsides and downsides but the two both offer some compelling experiences on the civil aviation side. Whatever you’re looking for, either one or both of these tiles will have it covered.
The IL-2 series has a long legacy stretching over 20 years and the second and third generations that are still being actively developed are impressive in so many ways. I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours with all three generations of the series. DCS World is also an extremely impressive and complex sim that is doing incredible things for WWII through to the modern jet age. It’s only in the last 4-5 years that I’ve really gotten into it but I’m glad I did because there’s so much to know.
My simulator interest does extend into other genres too. I’ve also been a fan of various racing sims over the years and more recently I’ve developed a bit of a love for Train Sim World as well. Good fun when you’re looking for a very different sim experience.
How and when did the concept for the Stormbirds blog come around?
Around five years ago I was looking for a new creative outlet and at the same time I was looking for a way to practice my writing skills. In my professional life I am called on to occasionally write news stories for my organization. Sometimes these come up with a very tight timeline. I wanted to be faster at writing and I thought that practicing with something that I’m interested in would help. It did!
I’ve also considered multiple times jumping into the video creation side of things rather than doing a blog, but I tend to be the kind of person who likes to run counter to some trends and do my own thing. So, in the age of the YouTube channel content creator, I decided to write a blog.
I have, however, put some content together on Stormbirds.blog YouTube channel including starting my own podcast series which now has five episodes. Episode releases come out irregularly as my focus is still very much on the blog and everything tends to relate back to it which is very different than the usual YouTube channel approach.
When the blog was created, was it meant to be primarily an IL-2 Sturmovik blog?
My content mandate, the thing that drives me to write, is essentially centered around writing about what I want to write about. That sounds a little selfish perhaps, but I think that’s important to do as a content creator. You have to have a passion for whatever it is that you’re writing, otherwise I think the audience will feel the lack of interest. I do feel some responsibility to cover certain subjects that may not be at the top of my interest list, but I do try and stick to my simple mandate most of the time.
I always intended to write about multiple sims when I started the blog. When I started it was mostly the IL-2: Great Battles series that I was flying on the regular but it didn’t take too long to expand my coverage to DCS World and on from there.
For those that do not know, what is Sturmovikfest?
Sturmovikfest is a weeklong celebration of everything IL-2 Sturmovik. It’s only run for two years so far but the festival has offered a variety of serious, competitive, and non-serious events including mass formation flypasts, air racing, and more!
When did Sturmovikfest start? How has it changed since the beginning?
I started the festival last year. The idea came to me not too long after the pandemic began as I looked to put my energy into something that could be done virtually. With everyone stuck inside, locked away and with so many real-world events cancelled, I thought that it’d be a good idea to try and raise spirits by hosting an event that people could engage with.
It proved to be popular enough that we brought it back for this year. I think its future is bright!
Have you received any help from IL-2’s developers when it comes to organizing the fest?
The festival has certainly had some support from the developers. It has had shout-outs from the developers, the festival thread has been prominently placed on the official forums and I know that the developers have also taken part, quietly, in at least a few of the events.
What are the highlights of Sturmovikfest thus far?
Many! The community has generated so many ideas over the last two times that we’ve run the event that I can’t wait to see what happens next. From the traditional fly-in event on different servers each night of the festival to the more unique events such as Project R air racing, IL-2 tag, and the Mass Formation event organized by JimTM. That last one, the mass formation, is a unique experience getting pilots together in a non-combat formation pass that has involved a few dozen players at a time. We’ve even had experienced real world aerobatics pilots join us so that has been something special!
How do fly-ins work in this event?
The concept of the “fly-in” is to say to the community that we’re going to agree to try and fully populate a specific server tonight. Sometimes it’s been a popular server like Combat Box or Finnish Virtual Pilots Dynamic War server and sometimes we go somewhere new that hasn’t seen as many pilots (or tankers) but is just waiting to be experienced.
Last year, Finnish Virtual Pilots – Dynamic War server was a relative unknown before the festival and has since become one of the top servers in the community. The fly-in helps provide some visibility for servers that may have not had any yet and at the same time it’s a highly accessible way to participate in the festival by just being there and doing what you’d normally do.
During the time you’ve been running the blog, what do you think some of the most substantial releases, updates or news bulletins have been?
There’s definitely some big highlights. The release of IL-2: Battle of Kuban was a huge point for the IL-2 series and I had a great time writing both the news in the run up to that launch as well as writing my review of it when it finally released.
Another one that sticks firmly in my mind is Heatblur’s release of the DCS: F-14 Tomcat. While the F/A-18C early access release was big for me, the F-14 was just an order of magnitude bigger for the whole sim and my early access first impression review is still a piece that I’m really proud of having wrote.
Finally, the reveal of Microsoft Flight Simulator back in June of 2019 was absolutely huge. I had just finished up two fantastic days at FSExpo 2019 in Orlando Florida and was sitting in my hotel room when the news came in. I tapped out an article as fast as I could after I had finished picking my jaw up off the floor. The launch was a big deal too but that initial announcement was momentous and it was when I realized that we were now in a new golden age of flight sims – having seen everything that FSExpo had to offer and learning that so much more was still to come.
How do you think running Stormbirds has helped you grow as a writer?
It has certainly helped me grow as a writer. It’s let me find my own niche as a writer, improved my “voice” as a writer and it’s broadly improved my overall ability to just sit down, write and get something written down “on paper” so to speak.
I used to suffer from a lot of writer’s block, not being sure what to write and then struggling to piece things together. I’m sure it’s not quite as bad as I make it out to be but every essay in university was a painful process. It’s really quite different for me now as I’ve learned to just write and get it out there and then fix it later.
I still need to continue to grow as a writer. Some of my regular readers and commenters are extremely helpful at point out when I make a mistake and I appreciate those helpful tips. As much as I pride myself on getting things right and perfect the first time, sometimes I don’t. I’ve gotten better at this in the last five years and I intend to get better over the next five as well.
Does having to write articles in a short period of time affect your writing style?
It most certainly does. I tried at the outset to keep my time spent on the blog limited to just 30-40 minutes a day at the most. That means writing quickly and sometimes that means abbreviating my style as much as possible.
I’ve had many comments from readers that they appreciate the brevity of the articles so obviously that style is helping not just me in managing my time but also the reader.
My goal with a lot of the news articles is to get to the point, get to the key facts and provide links to the sources. It’s the synthesis of the news around the flight sim community combined with the breadth of sims that I cover that I think seems to appeal most to my readers – or that’s what I tell myself anyways!
I also think it’s important to commentate along the way. This is a blog and I unashamedly inject my own comments into the news as it comes along. It’s obvious that I’m a fan of flight sims. I think they are incredible pieces of software that transcend their programming and become memorable experiences and there’s something really special about that experience that is almost undefinable. I want to project my enthusiasm for that experience into everything that I write. If I wasn’t excited about it, I probably wouldn’t be writing the blog in the first place.
How do you manage your releases? Are there any goals or deadlines that you set for yourself?
It took me a long time to accept that I’m a goal and deadline driven type-A personality but I have accepted that and so I do aim to produce a fair bit of content according to my own internal goals and deadlines.
Being a content creator does always bring with it the risk that you become a slave to your own deadlines and to the audience that you’re trying to appeal to. As much as I like and appreciate my audience, I also have to respect my own well-being and that sometimes means that I’ll do something later when I feel that I want to do it.
Striking a balance between those two competing aspects is a challenge and one that I continue to refine.
Thank you so much for accepting to have this interview with us. Would you have anything else to add before we conclude?
My thanks to both of you for doing this Q&A with me. I’m usually the one doing the interviewing so it’s nice to be on the other side of that and talk about what I do. I’m looking forward to some future possibilities of collaborating between our sites too!
Check Stormbirds out if you need a quick fix on the current happenings inside the flight sim world, to check out Shamrock's opinion on a particular matter or just to have a nice read.
About the Interviewer
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy#9034