Community Spotlight: iControl DCS

Games are often considered an immersive medium, allowing players to live out fantasies that were never before possible. Willie Zutz (known to the Shack community since 2004 as boarder2) has used his personal experience to create an iOS supplement to the Eagle Dynamics A-10C Warthog flight simulator. It's called iControl DCS, a virtual glass cockpit recreated in excruciating detail. "iControl DCS allows the player to connect their iPad directly via WiFi to the simulator in order to manipulate switches, dials, buttons, etc.," said Zutz. "It also mirrors the MFCD (Multi-Function Color Display) and CDU (Control Display Unit) from the simulator to the iPad. The application makes it so the average Joe who already has an iPad, but doesn't want to spend $200-$400 on a complex HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle & Stick), and another $1k+ on a home cockpit build to get a very rich and engrossing experience at a much more reasonable cost."

The Radio

Zutz has always had a vested interest in the military, particularly when it comes to flight. He's put countless hours into a number of flight simulators, starting with Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.0 and has experience with flying light aircraft. In fact, the idea for iControl DCS came to him in mid-air. "I drummed this up in my head one night while I was flying," he said. "At the time, I didn't have any intention of releasing it publicly. As I was researching for ideas and looking for help on how to get started with modding, people started expressing interest. For a good portion of the initial development phase I was still somewhat undecided if I wanted to take on the challenge of polishing something like this to the point of it being publicly consumable." Even though he has been a professional software developer for more than 12 years, Zutz is new to mobile development, with the iControl DCS being his first endeavor. It didn't come without challenges, but the process proved to be faster than expected. "It's been a pretty long road getting to where I'm at now," said Zutz, "but now reflecting on the initial development effort it seems as though things came together quite quickly. I started in late February of 2011 and the application became available on the App Store about the first week in May 2011. The application has been constantly evolving since then. It has had three major revisions, and a few minor revisions in-between." Zutz worked diligently to create iControl DCS to his specifications. He created all of the game's UI and graphical assets himself, adapting them for touch controls for a cleaner, more streamlined look. The app was originally designed for a 1024x768 resolution, meaning Zutz had to start from scratch when the new iPad (with its retina display feature) was released. Once this was finished, Zutz looked into hooking the application into the simulator, with user-friendliness being his primary concern. After that, it was time to address a major concern for sim players -- speed. "I knew simulation buffs hate things that slow their computers down, especially when they're gaming." Zutz explained. "A very large portion of the development effort was put toward making the live MFCDs as fluid as possible and keeping the load on the computer as low as possible. Making sure the application remained responsive while being able to process enough data to saturate some 802.11g networks and working within the limited processing power on the iPad was a pretty fun part of this process for me."

Realistic in-cockpit displays

The reception for iControl DCS has been tremendous. In the year and a half since it was released, the app has far exceeded Zutz's expectations, in terms of sales. He's also received feedback from the simulation community. "From all over the world, people who are genuinely kind and passionate about this sort of thing are happy that there's a product out there that can help lower the barrier of entry into complex simulations like this," he added. "Most people who use it say they could never fly again without it." Zutz isn't quite ready to fully put iControl DCS behind him, though. With Windows 8 touch PC's and tablets on the horizon, he's preparing to create a version of the app for those devices, as well. He also has ideas for improving the current app and creating future applications within the DCS realm. You can get the iControl DCS for the iPad on the iTunes store for $29.99.