Interview: VRChat F-14A Developer Insight w/VTail
An interview with a proliphic VRChat aviation creator! Over the past three years, VRChat has become an unlikely hub for some aviation enthusiasts thanks to the release SaccFlight, a vehicle system made by Sacchan that enabled users to make properly usable aircraft without coding knowledge. That being said, that does not mean that some creators haven't pushed the limits of the system to their limits.
Some have created 3D models of original aircraft designs, some have tried making ridiculously complex fictional aircraft, and others have pushed for a more realistic flight sensation despite the limitations of the system. Today's interviewee, VTail, falls on the latter category. He has pushed the limits of what can be done with SaccFlight to build one of the most interesting aircraft ever made with this system. Hello, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us. Please introduce yourself to our readers. Hello, and thank you for having me. My name's VTail. I am a VRChat world creator and photographer affiliated with a VRChat aviation community called the Black Aces. How did your interest in aviation begin? My interest in aviation started practically as early as I was born. My father has been an airline pilot for longer than I’ve been alive, and his job and interests ended had a big influence growing up. As I grew older into middle and high school my interest in aviation waned while I was extremely occupied with classes, and it wouldn’t be until the Covid lockdowns where I began to regain that interest. Before becoming a VRChat Aviation world creator, did you have previous game related projects? Yes I did, back between 2018 and 2019, I spent a lot of my free time learning about the Source Engine and making game maps for Garry’s Mod using the Hammer Editor. I worked on countless files, but only ever publicly released a handful of them. The first ones I made were not that good, but I’d say I ended up making decent maps by the time I stopped developing them. Beyond that however, I went into creating VRC flight worlds blind from a development standpoint. How did you become involved with VRChat? I began to play VRChat back in the middle of 2017 when I purchased an Oculus Rift CV1. While I had owned early development kits, I hadn’t been too interested in VR by the time the first full VR setups were entering the market. It wasn’t until my brother bought his own CV1 and let me try it out, as well as playing VRChat on desktop, that I then changed my mind. When I first got into the game using VR, I only knew the bare basics on how to upload poorly rigged avatars, and just hung around as a mute. But within the month I was talking with new friends and learning more about Unity and how to create content for the game. You made your first VRCA test world in April 2021. Using the SaccFlight prefab , what were some of the challenges you experienced while experimenting with flight on this platform? I learned of SaccFlight and plane worlds during a short period of time playing the game again after playing very intermittently. While meeting up with an old friend, they showed me Zweikaku’s F-14 world, and I was so impressed that I wanted to make a flight world as well. When I worked on that first test world though, it was admittedly a lot of trial and error and banging rocks together learning both SaccFlight, and making VRChat worlds as a whole. Beyond Sacchan’s Test Pilots world and Zweikaku’s carrier world existing, I did not know a whole community existed, and I was too nervous to ask either creator for help solving issues with making the planes work. That left me practically flying blind so to speak figuring out how to make a flight world, with just Sacchan’s own documentation file. Thankfully it documented everything on how to set up the prefab, and explained what each variable did to the plane’s handling. After tinkering for almost 2 months, I had several planes flying around in a basic world before losing interest in VRChat for several months. You could say that your first major exposure in the VRCA community as a whole was the Black Aces March 2022 showcase for Russian designed aircraft. Thinking back, do you have any thoughts on it? It was certainly a lot to process at the time and pretty nerve wracking. When I was given the chance to work on a showcase, it was more so because there was no other creator who had the capacity to make a showcase for that month. I had just released my second world a month prior, but I still was relatively new and felt self-obligated to work on the showcase, if not there wouldn’t have been one that month. Thankfully with collaboration with world creators Non and RaptorItasha, we assembled a showcase world with a really interesting lineup of soviet-era aircraft. But from the moment the event started to the group photo at the end, I was nervous, worried that I had missed something important that would only surface during the actual event. Thankfully, everything ran smoothly without a hitch. Speaking of the Black Aces, you have worked with them for quite a while as the official photographer. Your penchant for large dimension, high resolution photos from both the air and ground is certainly your calling card. Photography in VRChat is something I almost love more than making flight worlds. Unlike real life, you don’t need thousands of dollars of camera bodies and lenses, just lots of practice, a keen eye, and timing. For me, I love to take photos of planes and events that not just capture the moment, but show the action, the story, or the beauty behind what it is I’m taking a picture of. For each event, there are upwards of 500+ photos I end up taking, and out of all of those, I usually end up getting about 20 photos that I’d consider good. This large amount of files was from lots of experimenting with angles, zoom, focus to create photos that really capture the action. Your most current project, and one that has been in the works for the past 13 months, is the F-14A -Naval Interceptor- world. How has this development journey been for you so far, and which difficulties have you encountered? Developing this world has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. Initially the original scope and concept behind the world was just like any other flight world you would find on VRChat, only with nicer visuals. I figured I didn’t need to properly plan out development like I had done in my previous world since I expected the project to be done in a matter of two to three months. Very quickly however the project ballooned out of scope, with many additional features on the planes and the world itself. Along with the nightmare of trying to wrangle the project together, I ended up in a semi-burnout phase five to six months in, where the overall development crawled to a slow halt. At that point, I’d say at least seventy five percent of what was in the world at launch was completed, but all the small features I wanted to add made meaningful progression quite a mess. It wasn’t until other creators (thankfully) urged me to release the world by the end of the year. With two months left to get the world into a polished state for release, I started to shift development to get the world into a usable state as a normal flight world, then plan updates for the world with all the additions for the future. Of all aircraft you could have chosen after you were done with your Viggen Project, you chose the F-14A. Are there any particular reasons why you chose this aircraft? After finishing the Viggen flight world, I wanted to make another world with the same level of detail or more, but with a more recognizable aircraft. Out of a list of three aircraft I put actual consideration into, it just ended up being the F-14A. Mainly because there was so much about the tomcat that could be done in VRChat that hadn’t been done before. I wanted to try things that hadn’t been seen in a VRC flight world visually or under the hood, and using an aircraft filled with quirks and intricate nuances seemed like the perfect option. Your F-14A might be one of the most complete aircraft ever brought to VRChat, with its plethora of systems and features, but what distinguishes it from other ones? There are various features that either set the F-14A above the average flight world, and some that allow the plane to stand out amongst everything else available. A lot of care went into the sound design, with a whole system to muffle audio when inside an interior or another plane, being the first flight world to do so. Between fellow VRC world designer Sournetic, various effects like fire, smoke, and explosions were enhanced, while additionally new effects were introduced, such as heat distortion, engine exhaust, contrails, and more that are rare to see in VRChat. With the help of another VRC creator, Zhakami Zhako, each gauge in the cockpit works, the yaw string moves around, and in a future update, even the radar will work. But the plane isn’t just all looks, even the way the plane flies is also significantly different than other worlds. Beyond the flight values that are tuned for a ‘sim-lite’ experience, chunks of Sacchan’s original code were completely rewritten to suit my needs. The biggest example was how the original way SaccFlight calculated thrust and afterburner was extremely arcade-like, so I overhauled the thrust system to allow for a more accurate thrust calculation, and stages of afterburner to progress through to reach full output. Another system overhauled was the original code that handled overstressing the aircraft. Now instead of simply losing health and exploding, pulling way harder than the airframe was designed for could result in the wings ripping off, turning your aircraft into a burning meteor. Developing complex systems that interact with Sacchan’s SaccFlight prefab was not an easy task. Which systems did you manage to implement on your F-14A? Along with the revised code for thrust and over g systems, one feature that is entirely new I coded in was a wing sweep system. Traditionally, wing sweep on planes in VRChat was purely visual and just tied to the airspeed of the aircraft, it never actually meant anything in terms of flight handling or characteristics. I designed a system that not only modifies how the plane flies based on wing angle, but implements the ability for a player to switch between an automatic wing sweep control, to a manual one if they so chose to. I wish I could tell you the reason I did something admittedly overly-complex like this, especially since most players will never touch the wing sweep, but it’s there. Most players probably wouldn’t realize it does affect flying, until they realize having their wings swept forward prohibits them from going supersonic. While a system like that makes perfect sense for any flight game, such effects have not been done on a VRChat flight world until now. You are known for adding more flight simulation like features to your aircraft. What is your inspiration for this? I was mostly inspired by the large selection of flight games currently available to play such as War Thunder and DCS. While SaccFlight in its basic form was meant to resemble arcade-like flying, I felt like by adding sim-like features, it would make flying in VRChat more diverse and interesting. Even if a SaccFlight plane is made correctly, without either extensive tuning to the flight values or extra features being coded in, most planes end up feeling the same besides speed, armament, and turn rates. But by doing such tuning and adding those features, it makes each plane feel more unique or interesting to fly because there’s so many differences than the usual plane. What are some of the features in your worlds that you are most proud of? Definitely the visuals and audio are the elements I’m proud of the most. Despite being superficial at the end of the day under normal circumstances, in my perspective, visuals and audio are extremely important in VR. It’s a fine balance between performance and visuals, but making something that people see and just are stunned by the visuals from the planes, the clouds, the sunrises and sunsets, and above all else, the visceral feeling of flying these planes, that is what I am proud of. Does your approach to world building and creating custom flight characteristics make the development process longer than the average VRCA world process? Unfortunately it most certainly does. Putting aside my own perfectionist view of what I work on, there are several things that I do that naturally increase development time. One of the largest time sinks during development is everything else but the planes in a world. Traditionally, the terrain of a world is one of the last things thrown in with little thought beyond where the runway is. I however feel that the terrain the planes fly around is as important as the planes themselves, and for better or for worse, take lots of time planning out the terrain for worlds, the design of the airfields, etc. And once I start working on integrating or coding new systems into worlds to suit a plane’s niche functions, naturally the longer the development will take. But in the end I feel like all the extra work is worth it. Thank you for your time with this interview. We appreciate it. Is there anything you would like to say to our viewers in closing? Thank you again for inviting me to talk about my VRChat flight worlds, and what goes on behind the scenes during development. It has been now a multi-year passion, and I want to continue and improve upon it for many more. There’s plenty in store for the F-14 world down the line, along with future worlds that are currently on the drawing board, so keep an eye out! About the writer Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000s, 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 2010s. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as the co-founder and writer ever since. Twitter | Discord : Cubeboy